House leaders set the scene for another clash with the White House as they pushed ahead with plans to bring up a costly water-resources bill today.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) rejected a Carter administration appeal yesterday for delay of floor consideration of the $4.4 billion public works measure.
And, as though daring the White House, the Public Works and Transportation Committee reacted to presidential veto hints by adding another $107 million in new projects to the bill, which is under attack for its high cost.
O'Neill proceeded with plans to take the bill to the floor today despite a plea from Army Secretary Clifford Alexander and Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus to delay long enough to develop a compromise measure.
O'Neill aide said the speaker decided to go ahead after conferring with Rep. Harold T. Johnson (D-Calif.), chairman of the committee. the secretaries said the biennial bill, authorizing new flood control, navigation, dredging, water supply and bridge projects, contains more than 100 items that are objectionable to the Carter administration.
In a letter to O'Neal, they said, "We see virtually no possibility that we could recommend its approval" if the bill is enacted "in its present form."
But the committee than tacked on 20 new new amendments that would increase the cost of the bill by at least $107 million.
Among the add-ons was a $26.6 million authorization for navigation improvements at Helena, Ark., a bridge of unspecified cost over the Tombigbee River between Alabama and Mississippi, and $15 million in recreation road building around the New Melones Reservoir in California.
One item after item, Rep. Robert W. Edgar (D-Pa.), a committee member, raised questions about cost and justification.
But, just as methodically, the committee rolled over his objectives, making clear that it was in no mood to scale down the pork-barrel bill that traditionally comes up in election years.
Edgar, undaunted, cautioned the committee that he has 184 amendments prepared for the bill when it hits the floor, although he indicated that he does not intend to debate each one.
"All of us have an interest in the legislation's proceeding in a fair and equitable way. And I have no intention of trying to anger individual members who have projects in the bill," he said.
Just the same, Edgar said, he plans to try to force the full House to debate the same general issues that have put the Carter administration and the environmental community against the bill.
In a number of ways, the bill goes in a direction opposite that advocated by President Carter in his foundering campaign to tighten the project review process and force more thorough economic and environmental examination of water projects. His basic goals in this are to save both water and money.
The administration also has emphasized greater cost sharing by state and local governments, but the committee bill moves further from that as well.
Among the amendments adopted yesterday was one that authorizes $11 million to pay the full cost of new water supply and distribution systems for Berlin and Rochester, N.H.