Congress overrides water-project veto
WASHINGTON – Congress delivered its first override of a veto by President Bush on Thursday, giving final approval to a $23 billion bill that authorizes water projects eagerly sought by lawmakers from both parties.
The Senate overwhelmingly voted to override the veto, 79-14, with a majority of Republicans and Democrats rejecting Bush’s assertion that the bill was fiscally irresponsible. The House had voted to override the veto earlier this week.
“I have complete respect for the president of the United States, and I don’t like to vote against him, but he’s just wrong to veto this bill,” Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said.
The override vote is likely to intensify the battle between the White House and the Democrat-controlled Congress over the federal budget.
Bush has threatened to veto most of the appropriations bills, contending they call for too much spending. Democrats say they are seeking to spend more on health, education, environment and other domestic programs that have been cut by Bush.
A number of Republicans said that, although they broke with the president over the water bill, they would support his other efforts to rein in spending.
“I’m going to be supporting him on most of his vetoes,” said Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., who voted to override. “But in this case, I believe that this bill is in the best interests of the country. I know it’s very beneficial to my state.”
The Water Resources Development Act authorizes about 900 projects, including millions of dollars to protect the Gulf Coast from storms, restore the Florida Everglades and replace seven Depression-era locks on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers.
In California, it authorizes $1.3 billion for projects, including $25 million to revitalize the Los Angeles River and $106 million to shore up levees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Brian Riedl, a budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, called the override “a disappointing loss for fiscal restraint” but noted that “congressional Republicans are much more united against the appropriations bills.”
One of the first spending bills expected to reach Bush is likely to get his signature – a $459 billion defense spending measure for the current fiscal year, which began about six weeks ago. The measure, which does not include Bush’s $196 billion request for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, was overwhelmingly approved by the House and is expected to clear the Senate.
The bill includes stop-gap funding to keep the government running through Dec. 14 and give Congress and the White House more time to settle their spending differences.
But the bipartisanship reflected by the vote on the defense bill might be short-lived.
Democrats were working to revive their effort to pull U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by attaching strings to a $50 billion war-funding measure that could come before the House as early as today.