WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate is set to vote Thursday on what promises to be the first override of a veto by President Bush, with members expected to authorize $23 billion in new water projects over the president's objections.
The Army Corps of Engineers works on levee improvements in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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.
The bill passed Congress by overwhelming margins, and a leading conservative senator called Bush's veto "an exercise in futility" Wednesday.
"I urge, as much as I hate to do this, my colleagues on the Republican side to join me in overriding the president's veto on this very important bill," said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma.
Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the authorization bill is "the only discipline that we have for spending," since it sets the amount to be spent on each project.
Bush spiked the measure Friday despite its overwhelming bipartisan support, calling it too costly and complaining that the 900 projects it authorized would overtax the Army Corps of Engineers.
But the House of Representatives passed it again Tuesday on a 361-54 vote -- well beyond the two-thirds margin needed for an override -- and the White House said it was resigned to seeing the bill become law. See a chart of recent and historical vetoes »
No senator spoke in favor of sustaining Bush's veto during Wednesday afternoon's debate.
The bill has been a "team effort" with overwhelming support on both sides, said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana.
"I don't know why the president chose this bill to try to reassume the mantle of fiscal responsibility, but he picked the wrong bill," she said.
The measure will fund projects including the reconstruction of levees around New Orleans, Louisiana, and the closure of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet -- a man-made channel blamed for funneling Katrina's storm surge into the city's Lower 9th Ward and neighboring St. Bernard Parish.
Landrieu said the water projects included in the bill will lay "a foundation" for reconstruction efforts after the storm, which killed more than 1,800 people in Louisiana and Mississippi.
"Frankly, without it, our long-term recovery is really in jeopardy," she said.
In his veto message, Bush complained that Congress added about $8 billion in projects to the bill in conference committee after each house had passed its own version.
"American taxpayers should not be asked to support a pork-barrel system of federal authorization and funding where a project's merit is an afterthought," he said.
But supporters say the large number of projects are needed because Congress has gone more than seven years since its last major water resources bill passed.
"The projects included in this bill are desperately needed to shore up our waterway system, a vital component of our national infrastructure," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. E-mail to a friend
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