WASHINGTON – The Senate is poised to override President Bush’s veto of a $23.2 billion water project bill that would provide millions in assistance for Chesapeake Bay projects.
A vote could come today, according to the Senate majority leader’s office. Given that the Senate approved the original bill 81-12, more than the 60 votes needed, an override is likely.
The House successfully overrode the veto Tuesday, voting 361-54. All votes to uphold the president’s veto came from Republicans.
The act would authorize improvements to nearly 900 waterway projects by the Army Corps of Engineers, including more than $475 million for Chesapeake Bay cleanup and Maryland waterway restoration initiatives.
In a speech before the vote, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said the president needs to focus on domestic spending, rather than the war.
“This president has sent down to us a request for $196 billion, not for Anchorage, not for Baltimore . . . but for Baghdad and Kabul, but he says the water resources development act is too much for America,” he said.
Maryland would benefit from a $30 million increase in Chesapeake Bay restoration and protection funding, a $20 million increase in bay oyster restoration spending, and an additional $260 million for the continued expansion of the Paul S. Sarbanes Ecosystem Restoration Project at Poplar Island. The bill also adds $55 million to protect the Anacostia River Watershed.
Leaders in Anacostia River watershed communities, including Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and Washington, D.C., are not cooperating, to the detriment of the waterway, said Robert Boone, president of the Anacostia Watershed Society.
“Right now we have a balkanized effort that the counties aren’t working together and we were looking to the Corps to bring the counties together so we could work as a coordinated team,” Boone said. “It will be a shame if we don’t win that one, a shame on us.”
The bill requires a coordinated effort to develop a 10-year plan for river restoration.
The water bill has strong Republican support because troubled infrastructure is not a partisan issue.
Rep. John Mica, R-Florida, called Tuesday a “strange” day in the House.
“Here I am, a staunch supporter of the president’s effort to be fiscally responsible, supporting an override of the president’s veto,” Mica said.
The president issued the veto on Friday, saying the bill lacked “fiscal discipline.”
Proponents criticized the president’s attack, saying it is not a spending bill, but one that allows Congress to authorize projects that would later need financial support from House and Senate appropriations committees.
“So, when I say there are lots of projects for the (Chesapeake) Bay and the (Anacostia) River, it doesn’t mean those projects would get the go-ahead,” said Doug Siglin, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s federal affairs director.
“It’s kind of a two-step process, and if we’re interested in improving the bay, which we are, we have to have the bill pass,” he said.
Assuming all funding is appropriated, the bill would dole out about $2 billion a year for Corps projects over the next four years, and another $12 billion through 2022, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Congress has not passed a Water Resources Development Act since 2000, leading to a backlog of projects unable to receive authorization, including flood control in the hurricane-prone Gulf Coast, restoration of the Florida Everglades and cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.
“There haven’t been any new projects lined up since 2000 and we certainly need all of the federal assistance we can get to help save the bay,” Siglin said.
If the Senate overrides, Congress will log its first successful effort to overturn a Bush veto. Bush has only issued five vetoes, four of them in this session of Congress.