Easily brushing aside President Carter's objections, the House Appropriations Committee yesterday gave overwhelming approval to a $10.2 billion public works money bill that includes more than $200 million for 17 water projects Carter wants halted.
Yesterday's action marked one more step toward an almost inevitable Democratic White House, Democratic Congress confrontation that both sides say that they want to avoid.
The struggle will continue today when the appropriations panel takes up the $61 billion bill for the departments of labor and Health, Education and Welfare. And appropriations subcommittee has approved fund increases for HEW that are $1.4 billion over the Carter request.
The director of the President's Office of Management and Budget, Bert Lance, said Monday that he would recommend veto of the measure if it is not cut back closer to the Carter recommendation by the time it reaches his desk.
A Senate Appropriations subcommittee will take up the Labor-HEW money bill today. A staff member said yesterday he had been told over the past two days by White House, HEW and OMB officials to "cut anywhere you can" in the House bill "if you want to keep the measure."
"They looked me in the eye," the Senate aide said, "and told me, 'We're serious about a veto.'"
"Who knows?" he added.
Carter's defeat by House Appropriations Committee voice vote on the water projects yesterday was decisive.
Although the President had written committee members asking that the "needles and counterproductive projects" be cut out, not one Democrat at yesterday's session voiced support for Carter's position.
Rep. Sidney Yates (D-I11.) came closest, saying he might file a minority view to the committee report after he had an opportunity to study Carter's objections.
Only Republican Rep. Silvio Conte (Mass.) said he had come "prepared to knock out" the water projects on Carter's "hit list." But Conte said he would reserve making that motion for the floor action on the measure.
Appropriations Committee Chairman George Mahon (D-Tex.) said he didn't want the panel's action yesterday to be interpreted as "defiance and "unwillingness to cooperate."
But some of that mood was apparent Rep. Robert Giaimo (D-Conn.) said after the meeting that "there was a defian attitude" toward the President and that's not healthy."
Rep. Tom Bevill (D-Ala.), chairman of the subcommittee that made the original recommendation for funding the water projects, told the committee he had talked with Carter "three times in the last 30 days."
"The President, Bevill said, "is not budging . . . He doesn't want [the projects] modified, he just fants them out."
Bevill said, "I have hopes he'll go ahead and sign out bill" after it passes through the House, Senate and a conference committee.
By that time, Bevill and others say, a few additional projects will be cut that Carter wants eliminated.
Privately, however, other House sources say the President "seems to be telling us there is no idea in town but mine" and no compromise will be enough.
The Labor-HEW money bill is looked upon as a more serious political problem than the water projects by both the White House and congressional leaders.
The Democratic Congress, over the past eight years, has provided funding increases in the bill for party-supported social welfare programs. They were vetoed seven times by Republican Presidents Nixon and Ford. Congress overrode the vetoes four times.
Congressional Republicans in the past provided the main opposition to the Labor-HEW funding increases. Today, GOP House Whip Rep. Robert Michel (Ill.), is expected to lead the fight in the House Appropriations Committee to make HEW cutbacks in line with those favored by the Carter White House.
"It would be a shame," a Senate aide said yesterday, "if a Democratic President had to depend on conversative Republicans to get his way with Congress."