House Passes Mammoth Water Resources Authorization by Wide Margin

The House of Representatives passed legislation this week authorizing the federal government to commit $19 billion towards building a system of dikes to protect the Houston, Texas area from climate change-related flooding.

Given how much more expensive this bill is than your average biennial Water Resources Development Act (it also authorizes an additional $5 billion in federal funding for 18 projects across the nation), one might have expected a more vigorous debate, but the bill (H.R. 7776) passed after de minimis debate by a wide margin of 384 yeas, 37 nays.

We don’t really know how much the bill will cost taxpayers, because the House considered it before a full cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office was available. This is, technically, a no-no (Rule 38-C of the Rules of the House Democratic Caucus prohibits the Speaker from giving expedited floor consideration to legislation that costs more than $100 million in a single year), but the Caucus rules allow the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee to authorize the Speaker to schedule such a bill, which we presume happened.

But, while CBO has not yet completed a full estimate of how much the bill, if implemented, will cost, they were able to issue a one-page statement answering a much narrower question: will the bill trigger a round of budget sequestration under the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Budget Act?

CBO’s answer was “no,” but it does show a bit of chicanery by the bill’s authors. Apparently, the State of Louisiana owes Uncle Sam $748 million for the state’s share of two Corps of Engineers flood control projects near New Orleans. This money is scheduled to be paid in fiscal 2023.

Apparently, Louisiana is not keen on paying their share of the projects. But if Congress simply forgives the debt, CBO would score that as increasing the federal deficit by $748 million and possibly triggering a round of PAYGO sequestration.

The answer, in section 348 of H.R. 7776, is to delay Louisiana’s repayment date by nine years, to fiscal year 2032, the last year in the ten-year budget scorekeeping “window” currently in use. So, a $748 million deficit increase in 2023 is fully offset by a $748 million deficit decrease in 2032, for a net zero. (CBO does not look at net interest costs for borrowing another $748 million for nine years on the bond market.)

Of course, one would have to assume that the biennial WRDA that comes around in 2030 will delay Louisiana’s repayment date by another nine years, to 2041…

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