Bush Doesn't Give a Dime, Either
The gross under-funding of the Army Corps of Engineers, and for water-infrastructure maintenance and construction, more generally, is the result of the rom the Bush Administration's lack of interest in it, as well as conditions in the Congress. The Administration's Fiscal Year 2005 budget for the Corps represents the fourth year in a row of decline. In Fiscal 2001, the Corps budget was almost $4.7 billion. In fiscal 2005, the White House is asking for just under $4 billion, a decline in numerical terms of 15%, but which would actually be greater if inflation were factored in. Yet, while the Bush Administration is unwilling to expand maintenance and construction on America's waterways—with the huge jobs creation potential that would represent—it's more than willing to spend an amount greater than the Corps' budget, every month, for the war in Iraq.
The situation in Congress is only marginally better. While most members of Congress express strong support for the Corps' civil works program, they run up against the constraining factors of the budget process itself. This was reflected in the Congressional debate on the Energy and Water Development appropriations bill on June 25. That bill boosts the Corps of Engineers' budget to $4.8 billion, but still doesn't meet the needs of the country. Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.), the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, noted that while the bill boosts the Corps budget "well above the ridiculously low request of the President," it is still only 2.6% above the fiscal 2003 budget. "Clearly, this increase is below the level of inflation," he said. He warned that without a "transforming increase" in the funding provided to the Corps as well as the Bureau of Reclamation, "completion of construction and maintenance projects and studies will continue to take too long and major new projects will languish."
Visclosky's warning is likely to come to pass. Under the currently existing budget process, spending, including on necessary economic infrastructure, is restrained in a budget resolution dictated by the House Republican leadership and written by the House Budget Committee. The House Appropriations Committee can only change spending targets within the rules dictated by the budget resolution.
In the Senate, meanwhile, a spending bill has not even come out of committee, and because the budget process has completely broken down with partisan and intra-Republican warfare, the likelihood is that the Corps of Engineers budget could end up getting buried in an omnibus appropriations bill—although when that will be accomplished is anybody's guess. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has managed to write a water resources development authorization bill, which it passed on June 23, which provides for numerous projects for navigation, flood control, and eco-system restoration. Among these is an authorization of $730 million to replace five 600-foot locks on the upper Mississippi River, and the Illinois Waterway, with 1,200-foot locks, as well as numerous capacity improvements for harbors and shipping channels from Alaska to Connecticut. It also de-authorizes numerous projects authorized in earlier years but never funded, again, reflecting the problem inherent in the Congressional budget process. —Carl Osgood