Democrats Attempt To Override Bush Veto Of Water Resources Act
Chip Somodevilla  /  Getty Images
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer celebrates the veto override with her Democratic colleagues, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisana, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
updated 11/8/2007 3:09:14 PM ET 2007-11-08T20:09:14

For the time being, congressional Democrats can’t muster enough votes to stop President Bush from spending money in Iraq and Pakistan.

But with its override of his veto of a $23 billion water projects bill Thursday , the Senate signaled that the Democrats can at least ensure that more billions of federal dollars are spent at home.

“Let’s just say it’s time for America,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairwoman Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., told reporters at her victory press conference after the vote.

Our people need help,” she added, with an aside complaining about the money Bush and Congress were spending on aid to Pakistan.

It was also telling that Boxer in her press conference repeatedly mentioned Iraq.

The Senate voted 79 to 14 to override the president, the first override of a Bush veto since he took office in 2001. He has vetoed five bills.

A total of 33 Republicans joined with all but a handful of Democrats to override the veto.

“We have said today as a Congress to this president, ‘You can’t just keep rolling over us like this,’” said Boxer.

Democrats: Spend money in America
“This override is a clear indication that the Congress believes that we need to invest in our own country here,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., whose state is slated to collect millions in federal money for projects on the Chesapeake Bay.

Will the veto override be the first of many more in the remaining months of Bush’s presidency?

That’s not clear.

They were some special considerations that made it easier for Republican senators to vote with the Democrats in Thursday’s vote.

Among them:

  • The bill was only an authorizing measure, not an actual spending measure. It allowed money which Congress has yet to appropriate to be spent in the future. But the bill did not in itself release any money to be spent. And Boxer acknowledged that, in the end, some projects won’t be funded.
  • The bill was small in size, relative to total federal outlays. And the $23 billion in projected spending is also small relative to Iraq spending, a point Boxer made. “We’re spending ten billion a month in Iraq; and this bill would be two months” of Iraq spending.

Morale booster for Democrats
But nonetheless Thursday’s vote was a morale booster for the Democrats.

After being defeated by Bush’s vetoes on Iraq war spending, embryonic stem cell funding, and expansion of the children’s health insurance program, and after agreeing under pressure from the president to accept a national security surveillance bill that many Democrats opposed, finally the Democrats could crow a little in triumph.

Boxer argued that Thursday’s vote would cast a shadow over the 2008 elections. “These issues are going to be very front and center in the next election, that is, the issue of priorities,” she said.

Video: Poll looks at '08 Another Democrat, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, said the lesson of Thursday’s vote was that “it shows just how extreme the president is. He’s very out of touch and I’m hopeful that after overriding the water resources bill, that more of our Republican colleagues will decide that if it’s good enough for water and sewer projects, it’s good enough for children’s health care. And maybe we can get some agreement.”

She added, “As we see a president go down in credibility, the more we see people willing to step away” from him.

Boxer noted that “the vast majority” of Senate Republicans voted for appropriations bills which the Congress has yet to send to the president, several of which he has threatened to veto. “It‘s really up to them,” she said, referring to her GOP colleagues.

Of course, part of this was psychological warfare on the Democrats' part: keep saying the president is "extreme" and isolated and hope that congressional Republicans in close races in 2008 will believe it.

If Bush’s influence is waning, there were signs Thursday that he still has some: just a half hour before the Senate overrode his veto, the House of Representatives gave him a victory by passing the United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement, with 109 Democrats siding with the president.

A fate like Ford's?
It seems unlikely that Bush will suffer the fate that President Gerald Ford suffered in 1975-1976 when 12 of his 66 vetoes were over-ridden.

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Fiscal conservatives on the GOP are trying to make the case that their party’s political recovery in 2008 depends on standing firm against what they see as excessive spending on items not related to national defense.

“Americans want us to stop the flood of runaway spending and stop wasteful earmarks for pet projects,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. in a statement after the vote.

“Sadly, because the authors of this bill have rained a few earmarks to every member’s district, Congress didn’t have the courage to stop this reckless overspending.”

Over in the House, Republicans have — at least until now — shown impressive discipline in sustaining Bush’s vetoes.

“We had exactly what we needed,” House Whip Roy Blunt said a few weeks ago after the House failed to override Bush’s veto of expansion of the children’s health insurance program.

For many House Republicans sustaining Bush’s vetoes is their only way of exerting their minimal clout.

“It sends a message to Democrats that, at least as long as there’s a Republican president with these numbers in the Congress, they have to deal with Republicans on these important issues,” Blunt said.

The magic number for Blunt is 146. He can afford to lose about 55 or so of his GOP members and still win veto override battles.

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