Bush dealt first veto override on water resources bill

Legislation authorizes billions of dollars worth of Army Corps of Engineers water projects.

The Senate Thursday voted to override President Bush's veto of the $23 billion Water Resources Development Act, successfully ending a seven-year congressional effort to update the law and overcoming a veto for the first time in Bush's seven-year tenure.

The 79-14 Senate vote came two days after more than two-thirds of the House also agreed to trump Bush's veto.

The outcome was not in doubt, as the water resources bill -- which authorized projects across districts and states -- was a bipartisan favorite. "When there's overwhelming bipartisan support, why would a president cast a veto?" asked Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, R-Calif.

Bush contended the bill cost too much and had been plumped up in negotiations between the House and Senate. The bill authorizes Army Corps of Engineers water projects, and Republicans said it merely sets out congressional priorities rather than spend money.

Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member James Inhofe, R-Okla., a fiscal conservative who supported the bill, said WRDA would instill a check on appropriators. "I think that's the strongest argument in favor of this bill. What is at stake here is the authorization process," he said. "It doesn't spend a cent. This bill is not a spending bill," Inhofe said.

Supporters also argue the high cost came from Congress' inability to update WRDA since 2000. WRDA is supposed to be reauthorized every other year.

Republicans who said that the bill is too expensive accounted for 12 of the 14 votes to uphold the veto. Democratic Sens. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and Claire McCaskill of Missouri also voted to uphold the veto. Feingold said the bill does not do enough to ensure independent reviews of Army Corps projects or to set funding priorities.

"Some of my colleagues have argued it is OK to authorize $23 billion in projects because WRDA only authorizes projects and does not appropriate funds. This approach shirks our responsibility as elected officials," Feingold said in a statement.

The bill authorizes up to $7 billion for Louisiana for coastal restoration and hurricane protection two years after Hurricane Katrina. It also authorizes about $2 billion for the Florida Everglades. The WRDA bill includes compromise language triggering independent reviews of Army Corps projects that cost more than $45 million, or if a review is requested by a governor or is deemed by the Army Corps chief as being controversial.