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House votes to override Bush veto of $23 billion water bill

  • Story Highlights
  • Vote is 361-54; Senate expected to follow suit later this week
  • 138 Republicans break with president
  • Bill funds restoration of Gulf Coast, Everglades, Great Lakes fisheries
  • Bush says bill spends too much money; critics cite Bush war spending
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House of Representatives voted to override President Bush's veto of a bill authorizing $23 billion in water projects Tuesday, with the Senate expected to follow suit later this week.

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The Senate is expected to vote to override the president's veto later this week.

The 361-54 vote was far beyond the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto, with 138 Republicans joining 223 Democrats in support of the bill. The White House said it was resigned to seeing the bill pass over the president's objections in what would be the first override of his presidency.

Supporters say the projects authorized under the Water Resources Development Act are necessary to rebuild the Gulf Coast after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, restore the Everglades and Great Lakes fisheries and build flood-control projects nationwide.

Bush spiked the measure Friday despite its overwhelming bipartisan support, calling it too costly and complaining the 900 projects authorized would overtax the Army Corps of Engineers. Chart: presidential vetoes »

Among those projects are the reconstruction of levees around New Orleans and the closure of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, a man-made channel blamed for funneling Katrina's devastating storm surge into the city's Lower 9th Ward and neighboring St. Bernard Parish.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Bush is demanding nearly $200 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while complaining the water bill is too expensive.

"He doesn't pay for a single cent of that $196.4 billion," said Hoyer, D-Maryland. "But he says in order to develop the levees to save New Orleans that's cost us billions of dollars ... that's too much money."

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the president is fine with the prospect of losing the veto battle, arguing it puts him "on the right side of the federal taxpayers."

The water bill passed the House of Representatives on a 381-40 vote in August and cleared the Senate the next month, 81-12.

Critics pointed out that lawmakers added about $8 billion to the bill in a House-Senate conference committee set up to reconcile differing versions. But Congress last passed a water resources bill in 1999, and supporters on both sides of the aisle said the bill sets priorities for a seven-year backlog of water projects.

Bush objected to the $8 billion and said the "excessive authorization" of new projects "exacerbates the massive backlog of ongoing Corps construction projects." He also said the bill "lacks fiscal discipline" and "does not set priorities."

"My administration has repeatedly urged the Congress to authorize only those projects and programs that provide a high return on investment and are within the three main missions of the Corps' civil works program: Facilitating commercial navigation, reducing the risk of damage from floods and storms and restoring aquatic ecosystems," he said. "This bill does not achieve that goal."

"While I wholeheartedly respect the president's veto, we as Congress have a responsibility to provide for our nation's resources and infrastructure and provide the leadership to get that job done," said Rep. John Mica, R-Florida, the ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Bush never vetoed a spending bill while his Republican allies controlled Congress, killing only a bill that would have relaxed his 2001 ban on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research.

During that period, non-defense discretionary spending grew sharply, and many leading Republicans argue that complaints about pork-barrel spending contributed to the Democratic takeover of the House and Senate in 2006.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana, said Bush "got the message" from the elections.

"In using his veto pen on the Water Resources Development Act, the president is exercising the fiscal discipline that the American people demand of this Congress," Pence said. "But the question today is, did the Congress get the message?"

Since the 2006 elections, Bush has vetoed three spending bills -- the water bill, a $35 billion expansion of the state-run, federally funded Children's Health Insurance Program and a $120 billion war-spending bill that would have called for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in 2008.

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He has threatened to veto upcoming spending bills working their way through Congress, while complaining at the same time that the measures are late. The federal budget year began October 1, and the 13 appropriations bills that fund the federal government have not made it to the White House.

Democrats say their record is still better than when Congress was under GOP leadership. Two appropriations bills passed in 2007, and Congress passed a continuing resolution funding the government for the rest of the budget year after Democrats took power in January. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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