- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 8, 2002

House Republican leaders delayed a vote yesterday on a $3.6 billion Army Corps of Engineers bill after a broad coalition of lawmakers vowed to vote it down, arguing that the procedural rules would have prevented a full debate on reforming the corps.

Environmental groups and their congressional allies said Republicans would have broken an agreement to allow amendments to the bill and to have a full discussion about the Army Corps of Engineers if they had held the vote.

The Army Corps of Engineers has been criticized by taxpayer advocacy groups for its management of projects and by environmental groups for taking a piecemeal approach to water policy that has put many rivers on environmentalist "watch lists."

"We need to have this discussion," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Oregon Democrat. "We need to bring the product of our subcommittee to the floor and be able to deal with these issues meaningfully and honestly.

"It is time for Congress to get its act together, because, frankly, some of what some people feel in some instances are scandals and problems with the Corps of Engineers, I think, are a result of past practices and the traditional cross-currents they face. In no small measure, it's pressure from individual members of Congress."

If leaders hadn't delayed yesterday's vote, the procedural rules would have required that the bill garner a two-thirds supermajority for approval. Democrats said they had the votes to defeat the bill, thanks to the coalition of opponents.

"We had a deal, and I'm glad to see the Republican leadership has decided to live up to it," said Rep. James L. Oberstar of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, after Republican leaders pulled the bill.

The National Taxpayers Union and several other groups warned lawmakers in a letter that supporting yesterday's version would have been held against them in the groups' yearly scorecards.

"The environmental groups on the one hand were not thrilled with some of the activities of the corps, and fiscal responsibility groups weren't pleased either. That's the kind of coalition that's difficult to get around in Congress," said Pete Sepp, the National Taxpayers Union's vice president for communications.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing for a series of reforms at the Army Corps of Engineers, including subjecting big-budget water projects to independent review, requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to update its 1983 planning guidelines and demanding better management of the group's construction backlog, which advocates said has reached $58 billion.

Greg Crist, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey, the Texas Republican who controls the floor calendar, said the bill was pulled at the request of Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Mr. Young pulled the bill in order to make another attempt at working out an agreement, said spokesman Steve Hansen.

He said the prospects for bringing up the bill again this year, with Congress expected to adjourn soon, are not clear.

"If some members want to take down a bill that every provision had been agreed to on a bipartisan basis because of one or two other provisions, it's hard to estimate the future of the bill," he said.

Congress meanwhile did pass a bill to heighten security measures at wastewater-treatment plants. The bill, which passed by voice vote, authorizes $200 million in grants for plants to conduct vulnerability assessments and make some improvements.

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