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President Bush, long criticized by conservatives for not blocking excessive spending, issued his first veto of a spending bill on grounds of objection to the level of spending in it.
He may also be looking at his first veto override.
This veto involves a $23 billion water projects bill which the president calls excessive -- representing his first salvo in a threat of budget vetoes this fall if Congress does not hold its spending within line. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid suggests that an override is possible with this veto.
Bush had criticized congressional negotiators for starting at different levels of $14 billion and $15 billion in this bill and bargaining their way up to $23 billion. "In a time when fiscal restraint is much needed, the additional spending authorized in this bill, such as provisions for local wastewater and drinking water infrastructure projects, is unacceptable," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.
In two terms, Bush has vetoed only five bills: Two financing embryonic stem cell research, the war bill, the State Children's Health Insurance Program bill and now the water bill. He has never been overridden. Environmentalists say the first override may be coming.
The White House Office of Management and Budget maintains that the water bill authorizes more than 100 wastewater and drinking water projects, all beyond the central mission of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, diverting millions of dollars from flood and storm projects. It also "fails to ensure that projects yield high economic and environmental returns," OMB says.
But environmentalists say the veto imperils important work.
In rejecting the Water Resources Development Act, the president is holding up more than $2 billion for Everglades restoration projects in Florida, according to environmentalists.
Since the water act should be passed every two years, they say, the cost of restoration projects have been absorbed due to a significant increase in land and construction costs.
Conservation groups are anticipating votes in both the House and Senate to override the veto.
The bill includes $1.36 billion for the cleanup of the Indian River Lagoon, $375 million for the restoration of Picayune Strand, and over $80 million for an impoundment that will protect water quality and improve water flows into the Everglades.
"The president's veto jeopardizes the reauthorization of key Everglades projects with the potential to restore more than 150,000 acres of wetlands and estuarine habitat," said David Anderson, executive director, Audubon of Florida.