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South Mississippi Living 4/07

Monday, November 05, 2007

Bush vetoes $23-billion water bill

Congress is expected to override the president next week in a bipartisan vote.
By Richard Simon
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

November 3, 2007

WASHINGTON — President Bush delivered his threatened veto of a $23-billion water bill Friday, but Congress is virtually certain to reverse it in the first override of a Bush veto.

And Bush and the Democratic-controlled Congress are moving closer to a federal budget showdown that could result in more vetoes.

The House and Senate are expected to move swiftly next week to override Bush's veto of a bill loaded with water-related projects sought by members of both parties, from shoring up California's levees to protecting the Gulf Coast from hurricanes.

In a statement accompanying his veto, Bush said, "This bill lacks fiscal discipline."

On Capitol Hill, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said, "I am 100% confident that we can override this veto."

The defiant bipartisan response to the veto underscores the difficulty the president faces in his new zeal to hold down federal spending, especially when it affects highly visible construction projects cherished by lawmakers.

"This will be the first veto this Congress has overridden, and it was all about getting parochial water projects back to their home districts," said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group.

The bill would authorize more than 900 projects, such as restoration in the Florida Everglades and the replacement of seven Depression-era locks on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers that farm groups say is crucial for shipping grain.

For California, the bill authorizes $1.3 billion for 54 projects, including $106 million to strengthen the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta levees, $25 million for revitalizing the concrete-bound Los Angeles River and $38 million for replenishing sand at Imperial Beach in San Diego County, a project that supporters say would protect coastal residents from storms.

It is the fifth bill that Bush has vetoed -- the fewest by any president since James A. Garfield, who was shot in 1881 after four months in office and died weeks later. Bush has vetoed two bills that would have expanded federal support for embryonic stem cell research, a bill to pay for the Iraq war that included a timeline for withdrawing troops, and a bill that would have expanded a children's health insurance program. The four vetoes were sustained.

The Water Resources Development Act passed the House 381-40 and the Senate 81-12, far more than the two-thirds needed to make the measure law over the president's objections. The override would be the first since 1998, when Congress reversed President Clinton's veto of $287 million worth of military construction projects from a spending bill.

"Nothing seems as dear to members of Congress as their water projects," said Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a budget watchdog group.

Bixby expects that Bush, with support from congressional Republicans, will wield more influence over the appropriations bills. "Bush has a willing and sufficient minority with him to sustain his vetoes -- so long as it isn't a water project," he said.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), leader of a group of House conservatives, said he expected the water-bill veto to be overridden. "I plan to vote to sustain the veto, and I assume it will be a very small group of us," he said. "When the appropriations bills come . . . that's where the real fight on fiscal responsibility will be, and my guess is we'll have enough Republicans to sustain" a veto.

The water bill is supported by a number of Bush's usual allies, including business and farm groups. The measure even brought together Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Olka.), the panel's ranking member, who rarely agree. Inhofe had appealed to Vice President Dick Cheney and White House Budget Director Jim Nussle to urge the president not to veto the bill, and he vowed to lead the fight to override the veto.

"I share the president's concerns on excessive spending," said Republican bill supporter Sen. Mel Martinez. "There are some things in this bill that are not pretty in terms of government spending. But at the end of the day, as a Floridian, Everglades restoration is such an integral part of this WRDA bill we have to take the good with the bad."

Democrats pounced on the veto to portray Bush as out of touch with domestic priorities.

"When we override this irresponsible veto, perhaps the president will finally recognize that Congress is an equal branch of government and reconsider his many other reckless veto threats," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Next week, the House is expected to take up the first of a string of spending bills that could face Bush vetoes: a $215-billion bill that combines Democratic-sought funding increases for health and education programs with spending for popular veterans programs.

Although the fiscal year began Oct. 1, Congress has yet to send Bush a spending bill.

Bush, signaling a new determination to erase the red ink in the budget, has complained that Congress added $22 billion to his budget and seemed addicted to earmarks. In the first six years of his administration, federal spending soared. Bush never vetoed a GOP-written spending bill. His administration inherited a budget surplus and has presided over six years of deficits, including a record $412.7 billion in fiscal 2004.

On Friday in his veto statement, Bush noted that the House originally approved a $15-billion water bill and the Senate approved a $14-billion measure, but instead of the customary splitting the difference during negotiations, they "emerged with a Washington compromise that costs over $23 billion."

"This is not fiscally responsible," he said.

The water bill authorizes projects, but the funds must be provided through the separate appropriations process.

Bush complained that some of the projects fall outside the main mission of the Army Corps of Engineers: "facilitating commercial navigation, reducing the risk of damage from floods and storms, and restoring aquatic ecosystems."

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