The House quickly and vigorously made clear yesterday that it's not buying any of the fiscal austerity on federal water projects proposed by President Carter.
Within hours of the arrival of Carter's no-new-projects budget for fiscal 1981, the House began rolling toward passage of a bill authorizing $4.4 billion in new water projects.
Debate and voting will continue today, with all signs pointing toward easy passage of the biennial "pork-barrel" bill that provides flood-control, navigation and bridge projects.
Administration opposition to the measure was scarcely noted as House members invoked emotion, lambasted tax critic Howard Jarvis, and blistered Rep. Robert W. Edgar (D-Pa), leader of a move to tone down the bill.
On the first big test vote yesterday, Edgar was defeated soundly on an amendment that would have stricken a number of projects from the bill. The 263-to-117 vote against Edgar suggested that floor leaders may have the power to override a presidential veto of the measure.
The arrival of Carter's 1981 budget on Capitol Hill added a new twist to the intense grappling between the administration and Congress over federal water policy.
Because Congress has refused to authorize a project review procedure sought by the White House, Carter declined to propose construction starts on any new projects.
The budget proposes $4.1 billion for projects already under way, but would delay completion of about 90 Army Corps of Engineers flood-control and recreation facilities.
As part of the White House effort to win support for the independent review process -- central to Carter's proposed water policy -- starts on a number of high-priority projects were removed from the budget.
Among them were the Animas-La-Plata (Colorado) and Salmon Falls (Idaho) reclamation dams and a major harbor-development plan at Freeport, Tex., under direction of the corps.
The administration and environmental groups object to the pending House bill on the ground that it authorizes many projects not yet studied by the corps, waves traditional cost-benefit requirements and eliminates local cost-sharing formulas.
House Public Works Committee leaders marshalled all their forces yesterday to send the White House a message that Congress -- not the president -- will decide what is best for the country on water.
They began the day with a briefing and strategy session for House members, cautioning that defeat of the bill would doom nearly 200 projects in about half of the country's congressional districts.
The briefing featured attacks on Jarvis and the administration by Reps. William H. Harsha (R-Ohio) and Don H. Clausen (R-Calif.), champions of tight federal spending.
Harsha passed out a flyer criticizing Jarvis for his full-page advertisement last week in The Washington Post describing the bill as a boondoggle. Clausen said a "network" of activists and bureaucrats was trying to take control of water policy from Congress.
During floor debate, the administration was severly buffeted for its efforts to require closer review of the economics of water projects and more cost-sharing by affected communities.
Edgar's efforts were described variously as "nonsense" by Allen E. Ertel (D-Pa.), "ridiculous" by Carl D. Perkins (D-Ky.), "inhumane" by Tim Lee Carter (R-Ky.) and "suspect" by Harsha.
Edgar, with support from Berkley W. Bedell (D-Iowa), argued that he was attempting to force a rational discussion of water policy and not kill projects of merit.
Rep. Jerome A. Ambro (D-N.Y.), a member of the committee and supported of the bill, said he agreed that a policy debate is in order, but that it would not evolve from Edgar's 184 amendments.
"You have caused hostility with your amendments," he told Edgan. "These amendments don't help."