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War declared on defense vetoes

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Supporters of defense projects and opponents of the president's new line-item veto power joined forces Saturday to decisively reject President Clinton's line-item veto of military construction programs.

The House voted 352-64 to undo Clinton's October veto of 38 programs included in the bill to fund military construction in fiscal 1998.The projects included $12.7 million to move Army Reserve facilities from Fort Douglas to make way for the 2002 Olympic Village at the University of Utah.

The Senate last month also voted 69-30 to restore funding for 36 of the 38 projects. It's unclear whether the two chambers can come up with a unified bill before they recess for the year, possibly today.

But the two votes were both well above the two-thirds majority needed to overturn a presidential veto of their action.

The White House apparently did not realize the vetoed appropriation was tied to the 2002 Winter Games. Last week, government leaders agreed to administratively transfer 11 acres at Fort Douglas to the University of Utah for Olympic athlete housing. The transfer would be completed by September 1998.

Under that plan, Army Reserve units would relocate to rented space elsewhere, costing an estimated $500,000 a year, and seek money in the 1999 budget to move permanently to Camp Williams, north of Lehi.

But should the $12.7 million be restored in the military projects package, the units would permanently move to Camp Williams without additional costs - and in time for the University of Utah to complete construction of the Olympic Village, Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, said in a speech in Washington.

"Even though this is a Utah project, these are, after all, America's Games," said Cook, a co-sponsor of the bill to reject the president's veto.

Congress last year for the first time gave the president the right to kill individual spending items in bills. It's a power that presidents have long sought and fiscally conservative Republicans championed as a way to eliminate pork-barrel spending.

But there were howls of protest when Clinton exercised his new authority last month by killing 38 military construction projects in 24 states worth $287 million.

Rep. Ron Packard, R-Calif., chairman of the House subcommittee in charge of military construction, said Clinton had used his veto power "casually and carelessly."

"The fact is, our committee did not pork up this bill and because of that, this administration is finding it harder and harder to defend the cancellations," Packard said.

"This legislation restores integrity to the line-item veto process by ensuring that decisions are made on the basis of facts, not mistakes," said Rep. Joe Skeen, R-N.M., author of the legislation.

Including the military construction projects, the White House has cast 163 line-item vetoes against six bills so far, most affecting defense projects.

Office of Management and Budget Director Franklin Raines, in a letter last month defending the military construction vetoes, said the president used his authority to cancel projects that were not requested in the budget and would not substantially improve the quality of life of military service members.

But he added that the White House would work with Congress to restore funding for projects "that were canceled as a result of inaccuracies in the data provided by the Department of Defense."

Three lawsuits have been filed in an effort to have the line-item veto declared unconstitutional. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling by next summer.