The White House's first effort to compromise with Congress over water projects failed yesterday, as a Senate Appropriations subcommittee voted to send to the full committee the same bill Carter had sucessfully vetoed.
The public works subcommittee chairman, J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), said, "We've been trying to compromise with the White House. We've been unable to do so."
Johnston said the effort to compromise on the $10.1 billion public works bill faltered over White House demands that 12 new water projects be dropped in addition to the six old "hit list" projects Congress now seemed ready to give up.
"Many of these projects are good. They should not be taken out unless there is a good reason," Johnston said.
Actually, yesterday's skirmish was just a first round with no real lines being drawn in the dust. The subcommittee's shipment of the vetoed bill to the full committee was a way of ensuring that the House can participate in the negotiations too.
The vetoed public works bill will not be added to a resolution pending in the full Senate committee continuing funds for the Departments of Defense, Labor and Health, Education and Welfare.
Congress passes continuing resolutions when it hasn't approved an agency's funds in time for the new fiscal year. Those resolutions usually continue funding at the previous year's levels, but there is no requirment to do so.
The Senate subcommittee's action means that negotiations with the White House over the water projects will be put off until the resolution passes the Senate and goes to a House conference to iron out difference.
Johnston said that if he agreed to some of the proposals now, there would be no way for House members to have any say about them, since they would be irreparably dropped from the bill.
Carter vetoed the bill as wasteful and inflationary and containing water projects that were not environmentally sound or worth the cost. He also objected to Congress' mandating the hiring of 2,300 employes for the Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation and the abolition of the Water Resources Council.
The House Thursday upheld Carter's veto after a bitter fight, giving him 53 more votes than he needed to be sustained.
Yesterday, the White House outlined what it would demand from Congress in a new measure. The six old projects and the 2,300 jobs will be dropped without controvery apparently. Likewise, the Water Resources Council will be restored.
But the bill also contains 53 new starts in water projects; 26 of them Carter had asked for, 27 Congress added on its own. Yesterday, Carter told Congress he insists on funding 11 of these projects - nine from his list and two from Congress's - and insists in dropping 12 projects.
The White House had said that the 53 projects, if gully funded, would cost $1.8 billion. Yesterday Carter demanded that they cut $1 billion from that total, allowing Congress $800 million for projects for the next fiscal year.
The 11 projects he insisted on would cost $430 million, White House lobbyists said. That Left Congress $370 million to spend however it wished among the remaining 30 new projects.
On the question of full funding, Carter seemed ready to compromise. Carter had argued that Congress should fully fund water projects in the first year so the public would know the true costs. Congress had argued that this would allow the president to withhold funding for the project in future years - amounting to defering or even killing the project. Yesterday the White House said it was not demanding full funding merely that Congress show the full cost. The Senate does that now, the House does not.
Meanwhile House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), who led the fight against Carter on the veto, reported he had patched things up in a Thursday night chat at the White House. He called it a "very friendly conversation" and said he told Carter that, although he thought the president "overplayed it" on a bill that was "not that significant, that's behind us now. Let's talk about something else."