WASHINGTON – An increasingly confrontational President Bush on Friday vetoed a bill authorizing hundreds of popular water projects even though lawmakers can count enough votes to override him.
In doing so, Bush brushed aside significant objections from Capitol Hill, even from Republicans, in thwarting legislation that provides projects for a host of aims, including those that would repair hurricane damage, restore wetlands and prevent flooding in communities across the nation.
This level of opposition virtually assured that Bush would have a veto overridden for the first time in his presidency. He has used the veto very sparingly for most of the time he has been in office, but has made more use of it recently.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Bush's veto indicates that he's out of touch with the American people and their priorities.
"When we override this irresponsible veto, perhaps the president will finally recognize that Congress is an equal branch of government and reconsider his many other reckless veto threats," he said.
Reid said that with his veto, Bush has said "no" to providing authority for new navigation projects and programs to combat flood and coastal storm damage and restore ecosystems.
"More than two years after failing to respond to the devastation and destruction of Hurricane Katrina, he is refusing to fund important projects guided by the Army Corps of Engineers that are essential to protecting the people of the Gulf Coast region," said Reid, D-Nev.
The $23 billion water bill passed in both chambers of Congress by well more than the two-thirds majority needed to vacate a veto and make the bill law.
Bush objected to the $9 billion in projects added during negotiations on the measure between the House and Senate. He hoped that his action, even though it is sure not to hold, would cast him as a friend to conservatives who demand a tighter rein on federal spending.
But Bush never vetoed spending bills under the Republican Congress, despite budgetary increases then, too. Attempting to demonstrate fiscal toughness now, in the seventh year of his presidency, carried the risk being criticized as either too little, too late or as a transparently partisan attack against the Democrats who now run Capitol Hill.
The president took the gamble, making it part of a broader effort to more pointedly and frequently take on Democratic leaders.
The legislation originally approved by the Senate would have cost $14 billion and the House version would have totaled $15 billion. Bush and a few Republicans complained that the final version was larded with unneeded pet projects pushed by individual lawmakers — projects which sent the overall cost of the bill much higher.