With a strong boost from the Carter administration, Rep. Robert W. Edgar (D-Pa.) and major environmental groups are set to ambush a costly water resources bill scheduled for House action this week.
Edgar has introduced 184 amendments aimed at cutting back the controversial bill, which would authorize scores of new water projects at a minimum cost of $4.3 billion.
An intense fight over the traditional "pork barrel" bill is expected when debate begins tomorrow. The measure would authorize new flood control, navigation, water supply, dredging and bridge repair projects in more than 100 congressional districts.
As Edgar and his allies were preparing for what he called a "David vs. Goliath" floor battle, the administration delivered 31 typewritten pages of objections to the bill to the chairman of the Public Works and Transportation Committee.
Michael Blumenfeld, assistant secretary of the Army, told Chairman Harold T. (Biz) Johnson (D-Calif.) that the committee's bill is unacceptable to the administration.
The Army Corp of Engineers and the administration, through Blumenfeld, objected to 125 projects in the bill and raised questions about 11 others.
"It should be evident from this listing, as well as from our prior testimony and statements, that many highly objectionable provisions should simply be deleted, while other provisions can be modified to be acceptable," Blumenfeld wrote.
The administration's harsh critique centered on the inflationary impact of projects with open-ended authorizations and on authorizations of projects that have not been studied by the corps.
Edgar, meanwhile, said he will call up each of his amendments if necessary in an attempt to "refocus the debate and raise merit issues" on dozens of water projects.
Blumenfeld's letter "lets the committee know of the possibility of a presidential veto of this bill. Our job now is to convince the administration they have to hold to that position," Edgar said.
Edgar and spokesmen for the Coalition for Water Project Review, a group of 24 environmental organizations, noted the potential for a bruising floor debate.
"It is a legislative fact of life," Edgar said. "Almost every member of Congress has a project in this bill. They can't really say anything against it and there are very few advocates willing to stand up and speak out.
"I'm trying to convince members who have projects of merit in the bill to oppose the unacceptable ones so the entire measure is not vetoed."
The coalition blitzed House members over the weekend with letters urging major changes in the bill, and a new ally, the National Taxpayers' Union, joined the fray.
A spokesman, David Keating, said the National Taxpayers' Union is mounting a last-minute campaign against the bill in congressional districts and on Capitol Hill.
"We think this legislation is a fiscal disaster," he said. "We've never been impressed with the Corps of Engineers' cost studies -- so if the corps can't support many of these, you can imagine how bad they are."