October 31, 2013

October 31, 2013

By U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH) and U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY)

Congressman Bob Gibbs, from rural Ohio,  is Chairman of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Congressman Tim Bishop, from Long Island, is the ranking Democratic member. Together they spearheaded passage of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2013, which falls under the jurisdiction of their subcommittee.

This month, media reports suggested that Congress had never been more broken and bipartisanship was extinct. Talking heads told us the 535 lawmakers in Washington are bitterly split along party lines and completely dysfunctional. But a little-known bill dealing with critical national issues passed out of the House of Representatives last week on a vote of 417-3, proving that Congress can get the job done. It just takes hard work and a willingness to find common sense solutions.

Known as the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013, or WRRDA for short, this legislation is a prime example of how Washington should work. Sometimes called the "highway bill for water," WRRDA lays the foundation for economic growth by ensuring the free flow of imports, exports, and interstate commerce through our nation’s ports and river systems. The legislation also sets national priorities for flood control and ecosystem restoration, ensuring responsible development of our water resources.

Traditionally passed every two years, a reauthorized version of this critical legislation has not made it to the President's desk since 2007. We knew it was going to take a special effort to make something happen in a challenging environment for bipartisan cooperation. So, nearly a year ago, we both sat down with the Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster and Democratic Ranking Member Nick Rahall to plant the seeds for success.

We set a goal to pass WRRDA by the end of the year and ensure that there was bipartisan input on every line of every page of the bill. We held Transportation Committee hearings, invited stakeholders to listening panels, and organized one-on-one meetings to persuade our colleagues that this bill should be a legislative priority. A focus of our outreach was education, as nearly half of the current House of Representatives were not in Congress the last time a water resources bill was passed.

Working with those who don’t agree with you to find common ground is the only effective way to govern. While Republicans and Democrats disagreed about certain elements of the bill, we worked hard to reach consensus and resolve our differences. Eventually, we produced a bill that both sides agreed was significant step forward in realizing the benefits of water resource projects and a shot in the arm to our economy that will help create jobs in America immediately and well into the future.

We shared the frustration of the American people with the partisanship in Congress during the government shutdown. Once the government was reopened, we pushed for a vote on our bipartisan WRRDA bill to show that both parties can work together to promote America’s competitiveness, prosperity, and jobs. The results of the vote were better than we could have hoped for: at the final tally, WRRDA received support from 417 Members of Congress from all 50 states.

The best antidote to the negative effects of partisanship is cooperation across the aisle on common sense solutions to our nation's challenges. WRRDA will strengthen partnerships among all levels of government and the public sector. It will eliminate unnecessary red tape and reduce delays, bringing down project completion costs. At the end of the day, Republicans didn't get everything they wanted and neither did Democrats. But America took a major step towards the water resources bill it needs, and we can all be proud about that.

As this legislation heads to conference with the Senate, we hope that our example of cooperation on WRRDA will encourage a return to the tradition of both parties in Congress working together to promote America’s competitiveness, prosperity, and jobs.