WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate on Thursday handed President Bush his first veto override -- authorizing $23 billion in new water projects.
The Army Corps of Engineers works on levee improvements in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The vote was 79-14. Approval by two-thirds of the Senate, 67 members, was required for passage.
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 »
Supporters said 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.
They said it has been more than seven years since Congress passed a major water resources bill.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California who was responsible for shepherding the bill through the Senate, said the Senate was sending the president a message.
"You should respect the Senate, the House, the Congress and American people because we are elected, too," Boxer said. "We are close to the people. We know what their needs are."
Florida Sens. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Mel Martinez, a Republican, said they also decided to vote to override the veto, noting that the bill authorizes nearly $2 billion for Florida projects, most of it related to the Everglades. Watch Senate override Bush's veto »
"It's time for us to save one of the great natural wonders of the world," Nelson said at a news conference.
Before Thursday's vote, two senators from states hard-hit by Hurricane Katrina -- a Republican and a Democrat -- urged their peers to override the veto.
"This is about flood protection, this is about water and sewer projects, it is about doing something about water and the proper salinity in the Gulf of Mexico.
"These are good, deserved, justified projects that should go forward," said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, whose home in Pascagoula was wiped out by the storm.
"A quarter of the state probably wouldn't even exist if we didn't have flood control projects," Lott said. Nearly every president has had trouble with water resource programs, and Bush was "just trying to hold the line on spending."
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, said the bill has overwhelming support from both sides.
Landrieu said the bill will lay a foundation for reconstruction after the storm, which killed more than 1,800 people in Louisiana and Mississippi.
The measure will fund projects including the reconstruction of levees around New Orleans, Louisiana, and closing off the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet -- a manmade channel blamed for funneling Katrina's storm surge into the city's Lower 9th Ward and neighboring St. Bernard Parish.
In his veto message, Bush complained that Congress added about $8 billion in projects to the bill in 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.
In a statement issued after Thursday's vote, the White House said,"No one is surprised that this veto was overridden."
But, White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said in the statement, "It's obvious that the bill doesn't make difficult choices and doesn't set spending priorities. We don't believe it's a responsible way to budget."
Bush's veto of the water projects bill was the fifth veto of his presidency. All of those came in his second term, according to Senate data.
Bush has vetoed fewer bills than any president since James A. Garfield, who issued no vetoes during his seven months in office in 1881.
Congress unsuccessfully attempted to override three of the president's previous four vetoes. E-mail to a friend
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