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Both sides in House back water projects

Lawmakers say $8.2b plan will fuel employment

WASHINGTON— Bucking some of the same conservative groups that encouraged the government shutdown, Republicans and Democrats united Wednesday to overwhelmingly pass an $8.2 billion House bill mapping out plans for dams, harbor, river navigation, and other water projects for the coming decade.

Members of both parties praised the measure just a week after Congress voted to end a bitterly partisan standoff that shuttered much of the federal government for 16 days and threatened a first-ever default on its debt. It passed the House 417-3.

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‘‘It’s another example of the people’s house focusing on way to strengthen our economy,’’ House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said after the vote. ‘‘I’m proud that it passed with a strong bipartisan vote.’’

Conservative Republicans defied conservative groups such as FreedomWorks and Heritage Action for America that opposed the water projects bill after whipping up sentiment for the government shutdown as a tactic for rolling back President Obama’s health care law.

That strategy ultimately failed amid the Obama administration’s troubled rollout this month of computerized exchanges for people to buy medical insurance.

The water bill’s sponsors attracted support from members of both parties by including projects from coast to coast and labeling the measure an engine for job creation. To attract conservatives, sponsors emphasized the measure’s lack of earmarks, or projects for lawmakers’ home districts, and changes including an accelerating of required environmental reviews that have dragged out many projects for years.

‘‘Transportation is one of the few things Congress should actually spend money on,’’ said Representative Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, a conservative elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010.

‘‘Make no mistake, this is a jobs bill,’’ said Representative Steve Southerland, a Florida Republican who like Massie voted last week against the measure that ended the shutdown and averted a potential federal default.

Although the bill labeled the Water Resources Reform and Development Act ‘‘contains reform in the title, it fails to deliver on the promise,’’ 10 conservative groups wrote in a letter to lawmakers. The groups said the bill did not do enough to cut spending.

Congress last enacted a bill approving water projects in 2007, a lapse that created pent-up demand among lawmakers for such work.

‘‘This bill is about strengthening our infrastructure so we can remain competitive. It’s about economic growth, it’s about trade, it’s about jobs,’’ said Representative Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican.

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