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US Congress Overrides Bush Veto For the First Time

Lawmakers in both houses of the U.S. Congress this week handed President Bush a major defeat when they voted to override his veto legislation to fund popular water projects. It was the first time in his seven year presidency that the Congress was able to overturn a Bush veto. As VOA's Cindy Saine reports from Washington, the override is a sign that the Republican president will face growing pressure from the Democratic controlled Congress during his last year in office.

The U.S. Senate voted 79 to 14 on Thursday to overturn the president's veto of the water bill, with a total of 33 Republicans joining in with most Democrats. On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted 361 to 54 to override the veto.

California Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat who chairs the Environment and Public Works committee, said it was a rare moment of unity. "It's one of those rare moments, you know, in a very, very divided Senate that we come together," she said.

Senator Boxer said the vote showed Congress is ready to change its priorities and spend more money at home, for America.

The $23 billion legislation authorizes funding for 900 projects and studies across the United States, including coastal restoration in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, improving the Florida Everglades, and fisheries in the Great Lakes.

A White House spokesman called the bill "fiscally irresponsible." But the spokesman said the president was not surprised and understands that Republicans and Democrats are going to support projects in their districts.

Republican Senator James Inhofe, considered one of the most conservative members of the Senate, said his vote to override the veto was not easy. "The reason that I am standing up, and it's very difficult for me to do because I love our president. I think he's been ill-advised in this case," he said.

Several senators pointed out that the bill authorizes future funding, but does not actually release any money to be spent now. For Democrats who have been defeated by President Bush's vetoes on embryonic stem cell funding and the expansion of a children's health insurance program, the override was a morale booster.

Political analyst Larry Sabato, Diretor of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. said he believes the override indicates President Bush, who cannot run for president again because of term limits, is already seeing his influence diminished. "When this happens it's just confirmation that a president is very much a lame duck. We have known this about President Bush for some time. In fact, you could argue he's the earliest lame duck in American history among two term presidents," he said.

But Sabato cautioned that this does not mean that Democrats are likely to score similar victories in bigger battles with Congress over war spending on Iraq and Afghanistan. "The vote was overwhelming in both houses. This could happen again on some other spending matters. On matters like the war in Iraq, though, it will not happen," he said.

House Democrats are hoping another veto showdown could come soon involving the next spending bill for the war in Iraq.