Monday, November 05, 2007

Bush Vetoes Water Resources Development Act; Override Expected

Nov 2: On Friday, President Bush announced his veto of H.R. 1495, the "Water Resources Development Act of 2007." Some Congressional members called the President's action "galling." The bill had widespread support from Democrats, Republicans, environmental groups, business, and various local governments.

On May 16, 2007, the U.S. Senate, by a vote of 91-4, passed its $13.9 billion version of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA, H.R.1495) [
See WIMS 5/17/07]. The Senate insisted on its amendment and requested a conference to resolve the differences between the House-passed, $15 billion version, approved by a vote of by a vote of 394-25, on April 19, 2007 [See WIMS 4/30/07]. On August 1, 2007, the House approved the Conference report by a vote of 381-40 [See WIMS 8/1/07] and on September 24, 2007, the Conference Report bill, passed the Senate by an overwhelming bipartisan margin of 81 to 12. At the time of the Senate vote on the Conference report, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation representing more than three million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region, sent a letter to all U.S. Senators indicating their strong support for the WRDA conference report to H.R. 1495. There has not been a WRDA passed since 2000.

President Bush said, "This bill lacks fiscal discipline. I fully support funding for water resources projects that will yield high economic and environmental returns to the Nation and each year my budget has proposed reasonable and responsible funding, including $4.9 billion for 2008, to support the Army Corps of Engineers' (Corps) main missions. However, this authorization bill makes promises to local communities that the Congress does not have a track record of keeping. The House of Representatives took a $15 billion bill into negotiations with a $14 billion bill from the Senate and instead of splitting the difference, emerged with a Washington compromise that costs over $23 billion. This is not fiscally responsible, particularly when local communities have been waiting for funding for projects already in the pipeline. The bill's excessive authorization for over 900 projects and programs exacerbates the massive backlog of ongoing Corps construction projects, which will require an additional $38 billion in future appropriations to complete.

"This bill does not set priorities. The authorization and funding of Federal water resources projects should be focused on those projects with the greatest merit that are also a Federal responsibility. My Administration has repeatedly urged the Congress to authorize only those projects and programs that provide a high return on investment and are within the three main missions of the Corps' civil works program: facilitating commercial navigation, reducing the risk of damage from floods and storms, and restoring aquatic ecosystems. This bill does not achieve that goal. This bill promises hundreds of earmarks and hinders the Corps' ability to fulfill the Nation's critical water resources needs -- including hurricane protection for greater New Orleans, flood damage reduction for Sacramento, and restoration of the Everglades while diverting resources from the significant investments needed to maintain existing Federal water infrastructure. American taxpayers should not be asked to support a pork-barrel system of Federal authorization and funding where a project's merit is an afterthought.

"I urge the Congress to send me a fiscally responsible bill that sets priorities. Americans sent us to Washington to achieve results and be good stewards of their hard-earned taxpayer dollars. This bill violates that fundamental commitment. For the reasons outlined above, I must veto H.R. 1495."

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said at the time of Senate approval of the Conference report, “If the President chooses to veto the bill, as he has threatened to do, we are committed -- on a bipartisan basis -- to move to override his veto." Making good on that promise she issued a release on November 2, saying, "President Bush's veto of the Water Resources Development Act breaks his commitment to the people of Louisiana to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina; breaks his commitment to America's communities to make them economically strong and protect them from flooding; breaks his commitment to make America's infrastructure a priority; and breaks his commitment to restore our environment, including the Everglades. We are already working across party lines in the Congress to override this ill-advised veto."

Likewise, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, reaffirmed that he intends to lead the effort in the Senate to override President Bush's WRDA veto. Inhofe said, "As a fiscal conservative, I certainly appreciate and share the President's concerns over 'excessive spending' by the Federal government. The fact is, though, that the WRDA bill is not a spending bill; it is an authorizing bill. It simply sets out which projects and programs are allowed to get in line for future funding and sets the maximum amount of money that can be funded. Authorization is the best tool we have for keeping discipline over the annual appropriations process. Additionally, this bill includes a provision requiring independent third-party reviews of certain projects, which will inform future authorizations and appropriations..."

Representative Jim Oberstar (D-MN), Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and sponsor of the House bill, said President Bush’s veto of the major waterways infrastructure bill is "a mistake," and he expects Congress to override the veto in the next few weeks. Oberstar said, “It’s a sad moment for the presidency and for Congress; it is an unnecessary veto, pointless. For seven years, a succession of Republican congresses has failed to enact the most important internal development bill in this country and it’s all been on this president’s watch.

“With one stroke of the pen, President Bush has halted progress on vital projects that range from the construction of a second lock at Sault Ste. Marie to the restoration of coastal wetlands that protect the Gulf Coast from hurricanes like Katrina. There’s a great deal of concern in this administration about homeland security, but our biggest terrors are flood, hurricane, the freezing up of the locks, and natural disasters on land. These projects in this legislation will deal with the greatest source of terror to the homeland - the natural terror that we seek to prevent with this legislation.”

Oberstar and Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, also issued a joint statement saying, "What makes this veto particularly galling is that President Bush is now asking the American people to spend another $196 billion on Iraq. Yet, he is unwilling to invest our own nation’s future and in the recovery of the Gulf Coast region."

Access the President's veto statement (click here). Access a release from Senator Boxer (click here). Access a release from Senator Inhofe (click here). Access a lengthy release from Representative Oberstar (click here). Access the joint release from Representatives Oberstar and Johnson (click here). Access a 3-page summary of WRDA from Representative Oberstar(click here). Access a 72-page Joint Explanatory Statement from the Conference Committee (click here). Access legislative details for H.R.1495 (click here). Access links to various media reports on the President's action (click here). [*GLakes, *Water]