- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Senate, ignoring a veto threat from the White House, yesterday authorized $23 billion in water projects, including work to restore the hurricane-ravaged Louisiana coast and Florida’s Everglades.

The measure, passed by the House earlier this year, was approved by a vote of 81-12. It now goes to President Bush, who threatened a veto after the bill’s anticipated cost ballooned by $9 billion as projects were added in negotiations between the House and Senate.

The Senate vote was approved by a veto-proof margin and the bill’s supporters said they are optimistic that if the president rejects the measure, his veto will be overridden.

“He knows it’s going to be overridden,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, a leading supporter of the widely popular measure that would give a green light — if money is approved — to hundreds of water projects in virtually every state.

“These programs are necessary,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, who rejected arguments by opponents that the legislation is stocked with unneeded pet projects pushed by individual lawmakers.

The legislation authorizes $3.6 billion for wetlands and other coastal restoration, flood control and dredging projects for Louisiana, a state where coastal erosion and storms have resulted in the disappearance of huge areas of land.

It also includes nearly $2 billion for the restoration of the Florida Everglades, and nearly $2 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers to build seven new locks on the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

While these projects may be the most ambitious, the bill would give the go-ahead for hundreds of smaller dredging, wetlands restoration and flood control projects across the country. One senator after another called the projects critical for their respective states.

The bill also calls for increased oversight of the Corps of Engineers, requiring an outside review of water construction projects.

Critics called the bill — the first water system restoration and flood control authorization passed by Congress since 2000 — an example of Congress’ push to approve lawmakers’ pet projects without concern over costs or priorities. They said the Corps of Engineers already has a backlog of $58 billion worth of projects and an annual budget of only about $2 billion to address them.

While the bill authorizes projects, it does not fund them.

“How many failed projects and wasted dollars does it take before we finally say we’ve had enough?” asked Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, who called the legislation a “flawed, loaded bill” that doesn’t attempt to set priorities on water projects.

Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, complained that the bill contains about 20 projects that were added during the negotiations between the House and Senate but were not in the separate bills passed originally.

“The cost has exploded,” Mr. DeMint said.

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