Last week I admonished Congress for leaving town without passing the inland waterway industry’s proposed plan to improve the way inland waterways projects are managed and funded.
That was just one of a very long list of stuff that lawmakers didn’t get done before they recessed on Sept. 30 to campaign for the midterm elections, pushing decisions off to a lame duck session that begins on Nov. 15.
However, there’s actually some good news to come out of this. In a rare victory, Congress’ failure to act on a bill in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is a big positive for the barge industry.
Delaying the bill allows more time for the tug and barge industry, most notably through its association, the American Waterways Operators, to convince lawmakers to drop several provisions in the proposal that would be harmful to barge operators while focusing legislative attention on safety of offshore oil operations. Among the onerous proposals that would affect the barge industry would be doubling liability limits under OPA ‘90 and allowing unlimited punitive damages for maritime torts.
Given the importance of other national issues, chances are slim that Congress can tackle and pass this complex legislation in a short, post-election charged lame duck session.
“I think it’s a long shot,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said in a story on Politico, a political news website, noting that action on appropriations, taxes and an arms control treaty could consume most of the chamber’s time after the elections. “It’s not an easy and quick bill. There are many choices [on oil spill liability rules and renewable energy standards]and most of them are controversial. To think we can do them quickly in a lame duck is a long shot.”
The Illinois senator is right. Let’s hope his predictions come true.
Sometimes Congress overreacts to crises, passing legislation too quickly that has unforeseen and unintended consequences. Certainly there are lessons learned from Deepwater Horizon that should be analyzed and implemented. But let’s get it right and not rush to reform.