WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A veto last week by President George W. Bush of a popular water projects bill was overridden by the House of Representatives on Tuesday, moving Congress closer to enacting legislation that would authorize $23 billion for nearly 900 projects across the United States.
The House voted 361-54 to override the president’s veto. The Senate is expected to take up the water bill as early as Wednesday.
If similar action occurs in the Senate, it would mark the first time Congress has mustered enough votes to override the president’s veto. Bush has vetoed five bills during his time in office.
“The president chose to stand in the way of this bipartisan legislation, this overwhelming bipartisan legislation, in an attempt to claim the mantle of fiscal responsibility,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer from Maryland. “This is the wrong bill to have done so.”
Bush had long threatened to veto the $23 billion bill, saying it was too expensive because it had special projects supported by individual lawmakers.
“No one is surprised that this veto is over-ridden,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.
“We understand that members of Congress are going to support the projects in their districts. Budgeting is about making choices and defining priorities — it doesn’t mean you can have everything,” he said. “This bill doesn’t make the difficult choices; it says we can fund every idea out there.”
The Senate passed the bill, 81-12, in September after the House of Representatives approved it by 381-40 a month earlier, both with more than the two-thirds majorities needed to override a presidential veto.
Overall, the legislation authorizes 900 projects and studies.
The bill would provide funding to do coastal restoration in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and improve the Florida Everglades.
It also would include new locks to speed up freight traffic on the Mississippi River. Farm and business groups have campaigned for years to expand navigational capacity on the upper Mississippi, where many of the locks and dams date from the Depression era, in order to remain competitive in the global agriculture trade market.
Bush and Democrats, at loggerheads over his Iraq war strategy, have also been sparring over other spending issues, including a proposal by Democrats to expand a popular children’s health program and a series of annual domestic spending bills supported by Congress that exceed a funding limit Bush has suggested.
Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria in Washington; Editing by Marguerita Choy