Bush vetoes water bill

But Congress is likely to override the veto and okay $2-billion for Everglades projects.

By CRAIG PITTMAN and WES ALLISON, Times Staff Writers
Published November 3, 2007

WASHINGTON - President Bush vetoed a bill Friday that was intended to revive the flagging Everglades restoration effort and help with post-Katrina reconstruction in Louisiana.

Congress is likely to override the veto -- which would be the first overturning of a Bush veto -- as early as next week.

Bush administration officials have been warning for two months that the president would likely veto the 2007 Water Resources Development Act. Bush said Friday the bill cost too much, contained too many unfocused projects and would create a massive backlog that would require additional millions to complete.

"This bill lacks fiscal discipline," Bush said in announcing his veto. He pointed out that the original House version of the bill cost $14-billion, the Senate version cost $15-billion, yet somehow the final version wound up at $23-billion.

But when the bill passed Congress in September, it passed by a wide margin: 81-12 in the Senate and 381-40 in the House. That means there were far more votes for the bill than the two-thirds required to override a presidential veto.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the House is scheduled to vote on the override Tuesday, and he expects enough Republican support for the override to pass. No date for the Senate vote has been set.

"No single bill Congress approves this year will have as much positive impact on Florida's environment than this," said Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla.

The Water Resources Development Act, known on Capitol Hill by the acronym WRDA, authorizes federal spending on water-related projects handled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Normally Congress passes a WRDA bill every two years, but the last one passed in 2000.

That WRDA bill launched the Everglades restoration project, then assessed at $8-billion over 20 years.

The Everglades project was supposed to be a 50-50 effort by the state and federal governments. In the seven years since then, though, efforts to pass a new WRDA bill got bogged down in unrelated issues, including efforts to reform the corps.

As a result, much of the federal funding for Everglades restoration dried up. Since 2004 the state has been carrying much of the financial load, although critics complain that the state's spending priorities seem aimed more toward supplying water for South Florida's population growth than for saving the Everglades.

The new WRDA bill includes nearly $2-billion for Everglades restoration projects. It also includes $1.9-billion for Louisiana coastal restoration projects and more than $880-million for levees and floodwalls to shield some Louisiana parishes from hurricanes. It authorizes spending an unspecified amount of money on fortifying New Orleans' levees to withstand a 100-year storm.

Bush called on Congress to send him a pork-free WRDA bill instead of overriding his veto.

"American taxpayers should not be asked to support a pork-barrel system of federal authorization and funding where a project's merit is an afterthought," he said.

The veto was Bush's fifth in his seven years in office. Four of those have come since Democrats took over Congress in January.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.


The act

The Water Resources Development Act legislation would spend $23-billion on water-related projects around the country.

Nearly $2-billion would go to Everglades restoration.

Some $1.9-billion would be spent in Louisiana on coastal restoration projects from Hurricane Katrina.

More than $880-million would go toward levees and floodwalls to shield Louisiana parishes from future hurricanes.