WASHINGTON — President Bush vetoed a $23 billion water-projects bill on Friday, calling it a "pork barrel system ... where a project's merit is an afterthought" and triggering what's likely to be the Congress' first successful override of a Bush veto.
"Americans sent us to Washington to achieve results and be good stewards of their hard-earned taxpayer dollars," the president said in his veto message. "This bill violates that fundamental commitment."
The Water Resources Development Act would provide funding for more than 900 projects around the country to help restore and bolster wetlands, as well as control flooding and damage from hurricanes and other weather-related incidents.
The bill would permit billions to be spent on wetlands, flood control, hurricane mitigation and coastal restoration programs in Louisiana; the revival of the Florida Everglades; new locks on the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers; and dozens of dredging, wetlands restoration and flood control efforts around the country.
Though federal spending has increased during his presidency at the fastest pace since Democrat Lyndon Johnson's administration in the 1960s, Bush recently has vowed to veto any spending that he considers excessive.
In vetoing the water bill, however, Bush is bucking dozens of members of his own party, including Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and usually a champion of fiscal restraint.
The House of Representatives approved the measure, the first water projects bill to pass in seven years, on Aug. 1 by a 381-40 vote, and the Senate approved it 81-12 on Sept. 24. Both tallies were well above the two-thirds needed to override a presidential veto.
Shortly after Bush acted Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., sent a strong signal that legislators are ready to fight him. Override votes are likely as early as Tuesday.
"When we override this irresponsible veto," Reid said, "perhaps the president will finally recognize that Congress is an equal branch of government and reconsider his many other reckless veto threats."
The veto was the fifth of Bush's presidency, and the fourth since Democrats seized control of Congress 10 months ago. Bush's first veto, of a bill easing restrictions on federal funding for stem-cell research, didn't come until 14 months ago.
On Oct. 3, he vetoed a Democratic-led expansion of a children's health program, and while some Republicans protested, most backed his position. This week, he threatened to veto a revised version that would pay for the expansion with a cigarette tax increase.
Bush said he found it particularly galling that the water bill's price tag kept rising as it made its way through Congress. Originally, the Senate and House passed bills that would have cost far less than what they finally passed.
The final measure, the president said, "took a $15 billion bill into negotiations with a $14 billion bill from the Senate, and instead of splitting the difference, emerged with a Washington compromise that costs over $23 billion."
Bush also argued that the Army Corps of Engineers is overburdened, and that it wouldn't be able to do all the work the bill promises.
"This ... bill makes promises to local communities that the Congress does not have a track record of keeping," the president said. He urged Congress to approve only projects "that provide a high return on investment and are within the three main missions of the Corps' civil works program."
Those missions include helping commercial navigation, easing the risk of flood and storm damage and restoring aquatic ecosystems.
ON THE WEB
President Bush's veto message.
The congressional conference report on the projects.
An earlier McClatchy story on federal spending during Bush's administration.