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A Bush Veto Is Overridden for the 1st Time
"We have said today as a Congress to this president, 'You can't just keep rolling over us like this. You can't make everything a fight, because we'll see it through,' " said Boxer, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and a primary architect of the legislation.
Yesterday's action was the 107th override of a presidential veto in the nation's history. Congress overrode two of Bill Clinton's 22 vetoes and just one of George H.W. Bush's 44. At the other end of the spectrum, Gerald R. Ford, who vetoed 66 bills, and Harry S. Truman, who vetoed 250, each had 12 overridden, the most of any president besides Andrew Johnson.
Both parties sounded a discordant note on fiscal rectitude yesterday. House Democratic leaders -- defending a tax measure, scheduled to come to a vote today, that contains offsetting tax increases, largely for Wall Street titans -- contended that theirs is the party of fiscal responsibility, even as they were pushing through some of the largest domestic spending increases in years.
"We are making the hard decisions that Republicans refused to make and continue to refuse to make," said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.).
Republicans said theirs is the party of small government and austerity, even as they abandoned the White House in droves to push through a water bill that, if fully funded, would support more than 900 projects that would cost a total of $38 billion, according to the White House.
"Sadly, because the authors of this bill have rained a few earmarks to every member's district, Congress didn't have the courage to stop this reckless overspending," said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), whose dissent on the measure was a lonely one.
The water bill authorizes billions of dollars in coastal restoration, river navigation and dredging projects; levee and port construction; and other Army Corps of Engineers public works efforts. Seven years in the making, the measure took on particular political resonance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as Gulf Coast lawmakers secured nearly $2 billion in restoration and levee construction projects for the region.
The bill also authorizes the continuation of projects such as the restoration of the Everglades and the dredging of the upper Mississippi River, while expanding oversight of the Army Corps.
The measure authorizes $30 million to reduce nitrogen flowing from the Washington area's Blue Plains sewage-treatment plant into the Chesapeake Bay. It also authorizes $40 million for other Chesapeake Bay pollution-reduction projects.
An additional $192 million is authorized for the expansion of the bay's Poplar Island project, which involves rebuilding the island with dredged material from the channels serving the Port of Baltimore. The measure includes a $30 million increase for Chesapeake oyster restoration and an additional $20 million for other environmental protection projects for the bay.
Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense and a longtime critic of water measures, said in a statement that the legislation has "more pork than a Carolina BBQ joint, with millions going to water project slush funds nationwide, millions more for pumping sand on beaches to protect vacation homes and navigation boondoggles."
But the law merely authorizes such projects. Lawmakers backing the projects must now secure funding through the House and Senate appropriations committees, with no guarantees. Senate Republicans repeatedly justified their votes yesterday by saying that the law does not actually spend a cent, but Boxer made it clear that the authorizations would speed the allocation of funds.
That was a point on which the White House agreed.
"Even though authorizations don't actually spend money, they say something about priority setting and making tough decisions, which is what all good budgeting is about," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. He added, however, that Republican lawmakers "have been very clear on appropriations, and I think they'll hold strong."