Washington — ‘Too much pork,’ president says; override promised.
A federal bill to improve the nation’s waterways infrastructure
took a hit last week when President Bush vetoed the measure, the
House version of which is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar,
D-Minn. The Water Resources Development Act includes authorization
of funding to study and develop a carp barrier in the Upper
Mississippi near Dubuque, Iowa.
Much of the bill addresses flood-reduction projects (in the
Breckenridge area, for example) and other items meant to improve
the nation’s riverways and waterway navigation, as well as local
sewer system projects.
But Bush, in a White House memo, said the bill, which grew about
$8 billion to $23 billion during House-Senate negotiations, lacked
“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…,” Bush wrote. “However, this authorization bill makes
promises to local communities that the Congress does not have a
good track record of keeping. The House of Representatives took a
$15 billion bill into (conference committee) negotiations with a
$14 billion bill from the Senate, and instead of splitting the
difference, emerged with a Washington compromise that costs over
Bush vetoed the bill because it is “fiscally irresponsible” and
falls outside the scope of the mission of the Corps of Engineers,
White House press secretary Dana Perino said.
Critics said the Corps already has a backlog of $58 billion
worth of projects and an annual budget of only about $2 billion to
address them. Proponents say that shouldn’t stop Congress from
lining up projects to be funded in the future.
Bush’s veto is likely to be overridden, most Washington insiders
believe, because of the popularity of the bill in the House and
Senate. The bill passed both chambers by well more than the
two-thirds majority needed to override Bush’s decision. It would be
the first time Bush had a veto overridden during his
Luke Friedrich, an aide to U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, of Minnesota,
earlier said the WRDA was the first of a two-step process; a second
bill would be needed to approve project funding.
Officials from the Corps of Engineers, charged with looking into
the proposed Lock and Dam 11 carp barrier, said the location makes
sense; lock and dam gates don’t go up and down as much as they do
at other locations, and there’s limited documentation of non-native
carp species upstream from Lock and Dam 11.
While the fish barrier would slow movement of the carp – silver,
black, and bighead – it likely wouldn’t prohibit their movement.
Corps of Engineers officials say periodic flooding would render a
fish barrier ineffective, at least temporarily.
Oberstar called the presidential veto “a mistake,” and said he
expects a veto override soon. (Some at the Capitol believed
overrides could occur this week.)
Oberstar said not only does the water resources bill authorize
projects that affect “waterborne commerce,” but also funds habitat
restoration and projects.
An example cited by Oberstar is Army Corps of Engineers dredging
of Great Lakes harbors and channels; falling water levels and lack
of dredging have meant shippers are carrying less cargo and their
costs are increasing, he said.
President Bush has an unlikely ally in disapproval of the bill;
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., was critical of the WRDA. In a press
statement, Feingold said: “Instead of trying to override the veto,
Congress should take this opportunity to fix the bill. We must make
sure that Americans’ tax dollars are spent on the most important
priorities, not just on members’ pet projects.”
Authorizations in the bill include such things as:
- $3.6 billion for wetlands and coastal restoration, flood
control, and dredging projects in Louisiana;
- About $2 billion for restoration of the Florida
- About $2 billion for the Corps to build seven new locks on the
Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers.
Local projects highlighted by Oberstar include $7 million to
construct a dredge material disposal center in Two Harbors, $9
million for additional recreational enhancements of McQuade Road
Safe Harbor in Duluth, and funds to study and determine the causes
of corrosion to port infrastructure, in Duluth-Superior Harbor.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report