Heritage Action strongly recommended "no" votes on a major reauthorization of water infrastructure projects around the country; on Tuesday, few members heeded the advice.
The bipartisan, bicameral conference report for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, or WRRDA, passed on the House floor in an overwhelming 412-4 vote.
The holdouts — GOP Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, Louie Gohmert of Texas and Matt Salmon of Arizona — all have high scorecards with Heritage Action and represent the most conservative factions of the House Republican Conference.
When the House passed its earlier iteration of WRRDA late last year, there were three "no" votes, coming from Republican Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Water B. Jones of North Carolina, plus Democrat Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota. All switched their votes to "yes" on the conference report.
Heritage Action didn't score the vote on the original House WRRDA bill , with spokesman Dan Holler telling CQ Roll Call that it appreciated efforts by Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., to circle the wagons with stakeholders to build consensus.
The decision to issue a key vote this week, however, came about due to impressions that the combined bill hashed out with the Senate ultimately diluted the conservative product the House had promised to uphold until the very end. There were a variety of concerns about the substance of the conference report, though a major complaint came down to the price tag and the mechanism for funding local water initiatives.
House Republican leaders have lauded WRRDA as an example of how legislation can be crafted in a post-earmark Congress; Heritage Action countered that lawmakers had simply found another way to get around the earmark ban.
"That is specifically the sort of parochial-based, politics-laced decision-making process that the current earmark moratorium was meant to guard taxpayers against," wrote Russ Vought, Heritage Action's director of grassroots outreach. "Congress should be looking for ways to live within both the letter and spirit of the earmark moratorium, and not look for ways to evade it so that they can bring home the bacon to their constituents."
In the end, lawmakers who typically balk at big-government spending bills like WRRDA determined that bringing home the bacon was more important than upholding their ideological purity scores with Heritage Action.
Republican lawmakers lined up on the House floor on Tuesday afternoon to urge their colleagues to vote "yes" on the measure or issued statements after final passage, giving special shout-outs to local projects or home-state features that would be benefited by the bill.
"9,900 local jobs in West Virginia are supported by West Virginia waterways," said Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., during floor debate."
"My constituents are all too familiar with the economic consequences that occur when flooding happens," added Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb. "It's this kind of work the american people expect from this body and now is delivered."
"Georgia has waited for too long for [the Savannah Harbor Extension Project] to get moving," said Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., in a statement. "Congress has a constitutional responsibility for our infrastructure, and since my time in the state legislature we in Georgia have invested in SHEP and waited for the federal government to meet its obligations. Today's passage of WRRDA puts Georgia in a great place to grow."
Georgia Republican Jack Kingston, who faces a hard-fought primary tonight for his party's nomination for Senate, also spoke on the floor on Tuesday in support of WRRDA. Kingston's campaign was largely about proving his conservative credentials stacked up against his opponents, who include fellow Georgia GOP Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey.
Gingrey also voted "yes" on WRRDA; Broun was recorded as "not voting. "The Senate is expected to vote on the conference report in the days ahead.