Washington is famous for constructing acronyms. Many bills passed by Congress are titled with an acronym, public relations language or both. For those of you who may follow such things, there is a fair chance that you never have heard of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) Bill, which is unfortunate because the WRDA Conference Report is about to sail through the Congress but President George W. Bush has said that he would veto it. As much as I have been encouraging the President to veto bills this is not one of them. The President should sign the Bill as reflected by this Conference Report and I will tell you why.
The WRDA Bill would continue to provide a measure of discipline between the authorization and appropriations processes. When Congress was created all bills and conference reports were considered by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. In 1816 the Senate established the first eleven standing legislative committees, in 1867 the Appropriations Committee. The House later adopted the same system – standing legislative committees to originate or evaluate legislation, including appropriations authorizations, and the Appropriations Committee actually to appropriate funds to implement authorizations.
This system has worked well. The Senate with legislative jurisdiction, for example, may authorize $ one billion for transportation but if the Appropriations Committee appropriate only $800 million that lesser figure is enacted unless the full Senate increases it on the Floor.
It is a discipline which is necessary if Congress is to display any resemblance of fiscal responsibility. That brings us back to the WRDA Bill. In 1922, the Senate promulgated Rule XVI, which prevents the Appropriations Committee from legislating on appropriations bills. If there is an attempt to legislate an appropriations bill, the measure is subject to a point of order, which means a Senator can object and the language is stricken.
The WRDA Conference Report authorizes water projects by establishing criteria to be considered by the appropriators. Historically, Congress enacted a WRDA bill every two years but is has now been seven years since the last such enactment.