National Corn Growers Association members and representatives from the Carpenters Union and the Midwest Area River Coalition say they stormed Capitol Hill this week calling for the Water Resources Development Act to be brought to the Senate floor.

"We are here to talk to Congress about the importance of bringing this legislation to the floor for debate and, hopefully, passage," said Niemeyer. "We are also here to take the Senate and President George W. Bush's Administration to task in their wavering support of the bill."

The act, WRDA for short, authorizes the construction of seven new 1,200-foot locks on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers and an expansive ecosystem restoration program for the Mississippi River basin area. The bill also includes immediate implementation of small-scale measures, such as guide-wall extensions and helper boats, to help alleviate congestion.

The group visited with numerous Senate offices. One of the most important meetings was with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The group and committee staff discussed the possibilities of moving the legislation in a timely fashion and getting floor time. Floor time has been the culprit in stalling the legislation.

Niemeyer said corn growers have been confused by the Senate's tactics, considering they have more than 80 senators who have signed onto a letter or have sent letters into Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-Tenn.) office supporting the bill.

"Our question is: Why can't the Senate move when we have such strong support for it to go to floor? We have worked on this bill for so long, and it is essential that we have a vote on this bill this year," Niemeyer said.

Along with the Illinois corn grower delegation, representatives from the Mid-Central Illinois Region Council of Carpenters (MCIRCC) also joined in the WRDA fly-in.

"It was very productive week, said Don Gorman, a member of MCIRCC. "We had some really good responses. The benefit to be seen here is that this coalition really has worked well together to get the process of moving this bill along a lot quicker. We are a large and very broad coalition, and I am optimistic we will get this bill through."

Lisa Kelley, NCGA director of public policy, said this bill is about sustaining and growing our agriculture industry.

"Movement on the Mississippi River alone is vital to this nation's interstate commerce. In addition, we cannot increase products and our trade relationships unless we have the mechanism to get it efficiently down the rivers," she said.

"We are in a catch-22 situation here," Kelley said. "The committee has been assigned to put together a time allocation for the bill. However, that is difficult to do when there is no date certain for floor time."

She also said there seems to be a lack of urgency in the Senate to move this bill. That could be attributed to election year timing, politics as usual on the hill and budget constraints.

On the Senate side, the group targeted both those senators who signed onto the letter and those who did not. The senate offices visited included Sens. Bill Frist (R-Tenn), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Russ Fiengold (D-Wisc.). The group also visited House members and thanked them for their leadership in passing the legislation last summer. The House passed its WRDA bill by an overwhelming margin of 406-14 in July 2005.

SOURCE: NCGA news release.