WASHINGTON – The House approved what could become the first override of a President Bush veto Tuesday, with Republicans joining Democrats in challenging the president over a $23.2 billion water resources bill that addresses pressing infrastructure needs while offering hundreds of home district projects.
"I must respectfully disagree with President Bush's veto of this important and long overdue water resources development act," said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the top Republican on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, in explaining the rare rebellion of the GOP faithful toward the president.
The vote was 361-54, well over the two-thirds majority needed to negate a presidential veto. The Senate, which approved the bill 81-12 in September, could cast its override vote as early as Wednesday.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Bush's argument that the bill is fiscally irresponsible rings hollow when the White House is asking for an additional $200 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Fiscally responsible people maintain their infrastructure," he said. "Fiscally responsible people know that clean water and safe harbors aid our commerce and the health of our people."
Asked whether the veto override was essentially a crack in the dam — the first in perhaps a string of veto overrides as Bush's power wanes — White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said: "We'll see about that."
"One thing that the president would like to do is to make sure that he's on the right side of federal taxpayers," Perino said. "And that's what he's doing with this veto."
Bush did not veto a single bill during the first five years of his presidency, when Congress was mainly in GOP hands. He has since vetoed a stem cell research bill twice, an Iraq spending bill that set guidelines for troop withdrawal and a children's health insurance bill. He vetoed the Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA, on Nov. 2, saying it was too expensive.