November 8, 2007
We haven’t had much practice lately at reporting good news, but we’re happy to re-learn: Within two days, the two chambers of the U.S. Congress have voted to override the president’s veto of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)—the first water projects bill in seven years (normally passed every two years), and the first override of a presidential veto since 1998. Today the Senate voted 79 to 14—an overwhelming margin similar to that of the House’s 361 to 54—to authorize spending levels for about 900 projects nationwide, including about $7 billion for Louisiana coastal restoration and flood protection. Bruce Alpert of the Times-Picayune  notes, “Congress still must approve individual appropriations to get the work done.”
[We pause now to salute the wisdom of our illustrious congressional representatives—particularly the lobbying efforts of Louisiana senators Landrieu and Vitter. We can’t claim that all the votes resulted from our readers’ phone-and-fax blitz on the Capitol, but every call counts! Thank you all.]
The Water Resources Development Act authorizes funding for hundreds of Army Corps of Engineers projects, such as dams, beach and coastal restoration, and sewage plants. Mississippi Senator Trent Lott said that what President Bush sees as “pork barrel” items are in fact “good, deserved, justified projects.” Among the works WRDA authorizes:
- $1.9 billion for Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration (LCA) projects
- $886 million for the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane protection project (Louisiana)
- $700 million for the Indian River Lagoon Project in the Florida Everglades
- $45 million for independent peer review of all Army Corps of Engineers projects to reduce wasteful spending
- $1.9 billion for construction of navigation improvements for the upper Mississippi River
- $1.7 billion for an ecosystem restoration project for the upper Mississippi River
- Language that deauthorizes the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MR-GO) as recommended by the Army Corps of Engineers—this will help protect New Orleans from hurricane storm surge
WRDA is the first water projects bill passed since 2000. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu in an opinion piece in The Hill  observes that the bill’s $23 billion price tag is “the result of not enacting a bill in seven years. The price tag is in line with what would have been spent over this period if a WRDA bill had been signed into law every two years” as has been customary in previous administrations. Senator Landrieu also points out that “as a percentage of our [gross domestic product], we spend one-tenth as much on infrastructure as we did 70 years ago.” The WRDA bill, she says, will help maintain America’s competitive edge “by strengthening our ports and global avenues of commerce.”
Now all Congress has to do is to authorize the actual appropriations so that the work will be done—and all we have to do is keep up the pressure. Here is a link to the Senate Appropriations Committee , headed by West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd , and here is a link to the House Appropriations Committee , chaired by Wisconsin Congressman Dave Obey . Please also see our Political Action  page for further listings.
Here is a Senate roll call listing  of who voted Aye and Nay. Not voting: Clinton, Obama, McCain, Biden, Dodd, Bunning, and Cornyn. Surprisingly, Democratic senators Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Claire McCaskill of Missouri voted against WRDA. Last time we checked, those states bordered the Mississippi River. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a state not unscathed by Katrina, also voted Nay.