The President Should not Veto WRDA

In September, the U.S. Senate passed the long-overdue Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), sending the authorization bill to the President for his signature.  Unfortunately, President Bush has threatened to veto this bill, citing “excessive spending” as his motivation.  As the most conservative Senator as ranked by Human Events and the American Conservative Union, I am committed to making the conservative case in support of WRDA to ensure that a bill with vital project authorizations for the nation’s infrastructure becomes law.  

The WRDA bill is not a spending bill.  WRDA authorizes and modifies critical projects in the areas of waterways navigation, hurricane and storm damage reduction, flood damage reduction, and environmental restoration nationwide.  The bill also includes many important policy provisions for the Army Corps of Engineers to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the current process.

As many Members and their constituents are well aware, this is actually WRDA 2002, 2004, 2006 and now 2007 all rolled into one.  This bill should have been enacted in 2002, but unfortunately, we couldn’t even get a bill through Committee in the Senate.  We tried again the next Congress, but couldn’t complete action on it in 2004, either.  Last Congress, we got all the way to a conference with the House and made significant progress towards a final bill, but simply ran out of time.  This year, however, we were able to build on last year’s progress and resoundingly pass the WRDA bill in both chambers of Congress.

Again, the WRDA bill is not a spending bill; it is an authorizing bill that establishes which projects and programs are eligible for future funding according to strict criteria.  Without adhering to this process, Senate appropriators are under enormous pressure to both authorize and appropriate, contrary to the full Congressional review process. Instead, this authorization bill sets a maximum on what can be appropriated in the future.  

Let’s compare the 2007 WRDA bill authorization to the last WRDA bill passed in 2000.  WRDA 2000 was a one year bill.  WRDA 2007 has now become a seven year bill.  WRDA 2000 authorized approximately 247 projects.  WRDA 2007 authorizes approximately 751 projects.  I also point out that not all projects in WRDA will receive funding in subsequent appropriations years for a variety of reasons.  My office has evaluated a sampling of 20% of the projects in the most recent authorization, WRDA 2000.  We found that 70% of the projects authorized in WRDA 2000 received funding and many that received funding, received far less than authorized.  WRDA places a maximum on each project and any modifications to those projects must go before the authorization committee again for approval before the appropriations committee can provide additional funds.  Therefore, the current WRDA bill offers a maximum level of appropriating pursuant to the authorization levels in the bill.

Passage of the WRDA Conference Report provides the basis to challenge unauthorized earmarks simply by enforcing existing Senate rules.  A veto on this authorization legislation is vetoing an important discipline against out of control earmarking.  Many of the projects in this WRDA bill may ultimately receive no funding at all and some projects will receive less than authorized.  However, no projects will exceed the authorized amount without being subject to a 60 vote point of order.  
Therefore, if the President vetoes the WRDA bill, he will be vetoing the only mechanism that disciplines appropriator’s earmarking.  We should encourage the President to veto any and all irresponsible spending bills, but not this authorization.