House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) bluntly warned President Carter yesterday he would make "a strategic error" if he vetoed an appropreations bill carrying funds for water projectes Carter wants stopped.
Wright told a group of reporters at breakfast that the veto - which some White House aides have said is likely - would "be a strategic error even if he gained a tactical victory."
"He'd be building a kind of hostility he can ill afford and I'd hate to see develop," the Fort Worth congressman said.
Wright, a long-time advocate of public works spending, said he had told Carter at a recent luncheon that the President's advisers were "180 degrees wrong" in urging tightened criteria for the dam and reclamation projects.
The issue has been building between the President and Congress since Carter ordered funding halted on 32 water projects, pending review. After loud protest from Capital Hill, Carter relented on almost half the projects.
But last week the House Public Works appropriations subcommittee recommended 1978 funding for 17 of the 18 projects Carter wanted halted and added money for construction starts on a dozen new dam and waterway projects.
That action brought threats of veto from some White House aides.
Wright said it was possible Carter could muster one-third plus one of the votes of the votes in the House or Senate to sustain such a veto, but noted that even President Eisenhower, at the height of his popularity, had been overriden by Congress on a public works veto.
Despite his warning to the President on the water funds, Wright said he believed that White House congressional relations are better than generally preceived.
"In my judgment," he said, "the hostility has been exaggerated and the confrontation has been overplayed."