Last-minute attempts to avoid a confrontation between Congress and President Carter over controversial water projects have broken down, and a vote to override Carter's promised veto of a $10 billion public works appropriation bill is scheduled for tomorrow or Thursday in the House.
The negotiations never centered on whether to veto the bill - Carter was adamant in insisting on the veto. House leaders wanted to see if a compromise could be worked out, so that after a veto the bill could be sent back to the Appropriations Committee and a new version drafted without a vote to substain or override the veto. The veto could come today.
House and Senate leaders feel strongly - and have warned Carter - that bitterness over a veto may affect a House vote, scheduled for Oct. 12, on Carter's energy bill.
House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) has told Carter that if a veto is sustained, western members most affected by the water projects in connection, might feel it necessary to vote against Carter on energy in "order to show that they aren't the president's lackey." Sources say about 80 House members list themselves as undecided on the energy bill.
According to a White House official, the following governors will support a veto of the public works bill: J. James Exon of Nebraska, Mike Callaghan of Nevada, Jerry Apodaca of New Mexico, John V. Evans of Idaho and Julian Carroll of Kentucky. All have substantial projects in their states in this bill.
At the White House yesterday, another veto threat - this one directed at the pending taxtion tax credit legislation - was voiced by Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr.
The bill, he said, "is such a bad tax policy and such bad education policy that if it is entacted I would recommend to the president that he veto it."
The measure would provide up to $250 in tax credits to the parents of college students or students who support themselves. The administration is pushing legislation that would increase federal funds for college loans and grants.
Carter has strongly objected to the bill but has never said outright that he would veto it.
Carter has called the public works bill "pork-barrel" legislation, inflationary and "fiscally irresponsible." A packet of literature sent to every House member says the bill would cost taxpayers $1.8 billion more than the president's program.
The White House dislike 27 new starts for water projects Congress added this year, but most of all it is opposing six projects that were on a "hit list" last year and that the White House believes Congress promised to drop.
Rep. Tom Bevill (D-Ala.), chairman of the public works appropriations subcommittee, spent the latter part of last week and the weekend trying to work out a compromise with White House congressional liaison Frank Moore.
But yesterday, Bevill said, "There are just too many differences," and that the six water projects from last years were the main sticking point for-both sides, with neither willing to back down.
Bevill predicted an override vote would be "close." While other sources thought the president would be sustained, Vevill is counting on the help of most of the House leadership, including Wright and Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), who have committed themselves to trying to override a veto.
Brevill disputed the president's argument that it was inflationary, saying that for this year the bill is $879 million cheaper than the president wanted. The White House says it's more costly in the long run because it does not provide full funding for all the projects.
One sources said the part about the expected veto is that Carter's congressional liaison staff will be expending time and effort to sustain it at a time when they should be lending all their efforts to pass the energy bill. "This is why, if he's going to veto the bill, we want him to do it fast and we want to get it as far away from the energy bill as possible," the source said.