Bush sees first veto override in water bill
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congress on Thursday overturned President George W. Bush's veto last week of a popular water projects bill, marking the first time lawmakers have mustered enough votes to override Bush.
The Senate voted 79-14 to overturn Bush's veto. The House of Representatives had overwhelmingly met the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto when it voted 361-54 on Tuesday.
"There are some moments in time when (the president) needs to come together to work with us. This was one of those times," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Today is "one of those very rare moments in a very, very divided Senate that we came together."
The $23 billion water projects bill authorizes funding for nearly 900 projects and studies across the United States -- including flood control, improving navigation on waterways and restoring the environment.
The administration said the bill was "fiscally irresponsible" because it contained billions of dollars worth of special projects supported by individual lawmakers.
Bush has vetoed five bills during his time in office. The water legislation was the 107th time in U.S. history Congress has overridden a presidential veto.
The veto override was another sign of the growing difficulty Bush faces keeping even his fellow Republicans in line as he confronts a Democratic-controlled Congress and low approval ratings driven down by public disenchantment over the Iraq war.
But the White House was quick to play down any negative implications from Thursday's vote.
Bush had said the bill would only further exacerbate what is already a backlog of projects for the Army Corp of Engineers by adding more projects, many of which were not necessary.
"No one is surprised that the veto was overridden," said White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore. "The president understands that Republicans and Democrats are going to support projects that are in their districts."
'BUSINESS AS USUAL'
Many lawmakers contend the projects are needed because it has been seven years since the last water resources bill was passed.
Still, some lawmakers sided with the president. Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, said the Army Corps of Engineers already was overworked and carried a $58 billion backlog of authorized but unfunded projects.
"Instead of the reform bill that the country needs, this bill is simply the latest example of business as usual," Feingold said.
The legislation authorizes funding for coastal restoration in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, and improving the Florida Everglades and fisheries in the Great Lakes.
It also proposes new locks to speed up freight traffic on the Mississippi River. Farm and business groups have campaigned for years to expand navigational capacity on the upper Mississippi, where many of the locks and dams date from the Depression era, in order to remain competitive in the global agriculture trade market.
"If there is a cause that merits a historic vote such as this, it's fitting that the cause be to restore some of our most special places before they are lost forever," said April Gromnicki, a director with the National Audubon Society.
Bush and Democrats have also been sparring over other spending issues, including a proposal by Democrats to expand a popular children's health program and a series of annual domestic spending bills supported by Congress that exceed a funding limit Bush has suggested.
"President Bush vetoed these critical priorities, just as he has repeatedly threatened to block other essential needs and repeatedly demonstrated how out of touch he is with the American people," said Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
"Perhaps the president will finally recognize that Congress is an equal branch of government and reconsider his many other reckless veto threats," he added.
(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)
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