The Senate on Thursday dealt President Bush the first veto override of his presidency, with a resounding bipartisan vote to adopt a $23.2 billion water resources bill that authorizes popular projects across the country.
The 79-14 vote sent a clear signal that the Democrats in control of Congress planned to test the power of the White House on other fronts, and it gave Republicans a chance to show distance from an unpopular president heading into a tough election year.
“We have said today, as a Congress to this president, you can’t just keep rolling over us like this,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who led the charge on the water bill as chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
“You can’t make everything a fight because we’ll see it through,” Boxer added. “And that’s a big deal. It isn’t easy for members of the other side to stand up to a president in their own party. I know. I know what that’s like. It’s hard.”
If the Democrats have their way, Republicans will likely find themselves in that difficult position repeatedly in the next few weeks as Congress looks to go toe to toe with the administration on a series of budget bills, most of which Bush has threatened to veto. Lawmakers will also face decisions on a request from the White House for more money for the Iraq war; a continuing battle over children’s health insurance; the farm bill, which Bush has said he will veto; and a proposed change to the alternative minimum tax.
On the Iraq war, the Democrats prepared to offer the administration $50 billion, but with strings attached that include a goal of withdrawing troops from Iraq by December 2008.
And Republicans quickly accused the Democrats of threatening to cut off funds needed to support American troops.
“This bill is deja vu all over again,” said Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the Republican whip. “The last time Democrats tried to tie funding for our troops to a date for surrender, they failed. And that was before the marked turn-around we’ve witnessed on the ground over the past several months.”
The House, meanwhile, on Thursday approved a $471 billion military spending bill, which omitted the president’s request for $196 billion for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, except for $12 billion specifically for vehicles that would protect soldiers from roadside bombs.
The bill would provide a 9 percent budget increase — or $40 billion — for the Pentagon. If the Senate, as expected, also approves, it could be the first spending bill this year signed by Bush.
The water bill adopted by the Senate authorizes popular projects in states across the country, including hurricane recovery efforts in Louisiana, environmental restoration in the Florida Everglades and flood control in California. But the bill does not actually appropriate money for the projects, which must be done in spending bills.