WASHINGTON For the first time in President Bush's presidency, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to override his veto, in this case a $23 billion water resources bill.
The 361-54 vote on the measure sets up the likelihood that the Senate will follow suit today, handing Bush the first rebuff of the five vetoes he has issued. All of the votes against the override came from Republicans.
The Senate voted 81-12 for the bill in late September, 14 votes more than are needed for the two-thirds majority required for an override.
Bush had objected to the bill, the Water Resources Development Act, because it was about $9 billion higher than he wanted. Much of the funding would go to the Gulf Coast and the Florida Everglades.
But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle argued that the price tag was unusually high because Congress has not passed such a bill since 2000. Previously, a water resources bill had been adopted on a two-year schedule.
The bill contains literally hundreds of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects nationwide aimed at reducing flooding, improving navigation, rebuilding beaches and restoring the Everglades.
Unlike previous Bush vetoes, which have galvanized congressional Republicans to support the president, House GOP leaders were noticeably absent Tuesday from the debate.
Instead, the Republican floor leader on the bill, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., directed the Republican members who spoke in favor of the override.
"I understand the president's commitment to fiscal responsibility," Mica said. But he noted that members of Congress "also have a responsibility to our infrastructure. We do need to invest in our infrastructure."
Mica noted that the bill merely authorizes projects, but that Congress will have further opportunities to determine how much is actually spent on each project.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, issued a statement moments after the vote thanking the House for the override and urging the Senate "to do the same."
"Seven years ago, the state of Florida and our federal partners signed a historic agreement to restore this national treasure (the Everglades) for generations to come. Today's action reaffirms our federal partner's commitment."
While most of the hour-long debate focused on the need for local projects, particularly along the hurricane-ravage Gulf Coast, some of the comments took on a sharply partisan tone.
"It is very hard for me to understand how President Bush can spend $600 billion on his never-ending war and yet veto $23 billion on needed water projects," said Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla.
Republicans said they merely had a disagreement with Bush.
Rep. Bobby Jindal, a Republican who was recently elected governor of Louisiana, said the bill "is one of our top prioritiesso that we can repair our coast, repair our levees and keep our people safe. This is a bill that is long overdue."