Dem farm bill win blunted as wrong ver­sion is sent to Bush

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephen Di­nan and Jon Ward

Hours af­ter vot­ing to ap­prove just the sec­ond veto over­ride of Pres­i­dent Bush’s ten­ure on the mas­sive farm bill, a colos­sal blun­der means the House will have to have a do-over and repass the en­tire bill anew.

A cler­i­cal er­ror meant the ver­sion of the bill that Mr. Bush ve­toed May 21 dif­fered from the ver­sion passed two weeks ago by Congress, and House Democrats said they will have to go through the whole vote process again.

The flub turned a Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal vic­tory into a ma­jor — al­beit likely tem­po­rary — em­bar­rass­ment, and gave Repub­li­can op­po­nents more time to rally op­po­si­tion and an ex­cuse to crow about ma­jor­ity party in­com­pe­tence.

The vote was 316-108, with 100 Repub­li­cans join­ing 216 Democrats to over­ride the pres­i­den­tial veto, while 14 Democrats and 94 Repub­li­cans voted to up­hold it. The Se­nate had passed the orig­i­nal bill by a veto-proof 81-15 mar­gin.

Those mar­gins left con­ser­va­tive lead­ers to ponder what hap­pened to the fis­cal con­ser­va­tive mes­sage that used to be the back­bone of Repub­li­can elec­tion vic­to­ries.

“The fact that the num­bers are that bad demon­strates to me how se­ri­ously the Repub­li­can Party is lack­ing vi­sion in the House,” said for­mer House Ma­jor­ity Leader Dick Armey, an ar­chi­tect of the 1994 Repub­li­can revo­lu­tion who ac­cused his party of buy­ing into pork­bar­rel parochial pol­i­tics. “It’s prob­a­bly a mi­cro­scopic pic­ture of how badly Repub­li­cans have lost their way.”

But such angst was forgotten May 21 as Democrats scram­bled to re­work their cal­en­dar, vow­ing to pass the en­tire bill, again, through both cham­bers of Congress. That ver­sion then would be sent to Mr. Bush for an­other ex­pected veto and an­other over­ride at­tempt. Congress also will have to ex­tend the cur­rent farm law, which was to ex­pire May 23.

“We will have to repass the whole thing, as will the Se­nate,” said Rep. Louise M. Slaugh­ter, New York Demo­crat. “We can’t let the farm bill just die.”

In the mo­ments af­ter the over­ride passed early in the evening, House Mi­nor­ity Leader John A. Boehner, pointed out that the bill that Mr. Bush ve­toed lacked one of the 12 sec­tions of the bill that Congress passed.

“I have doubts about the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of what we’re do­ing,” the Ohio Repub­li­can said.

The White House told Congress that the print­ing glitch was an­other rea­son to ditch the bill and start again.

“We haven’t found a prece­dent for a con­gres­sional blun­der of this mag­ni­tude,” said spokesman Scott Stanzel, adding that Congress should use the de­lay to write a bill Mr. Bush can sign.

Repub­li­can lead­er­ship aides said the gaffe also means that Democrats won’t be able pass a bud­get un­til af­ter they re­turn in June from Me­mo­rial Day break.

The blun­der sapped the joy from Democrats, who just hours ear­lier had been tout­ing the bi­par­ti­san vote against Mr. Bush.

“To­day the House over­whelm­ingly re­jected the pres­i­dent’s mis­guided veto of the farm bill,” said Ma­jor­ity Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Mary­land Demo­crat.

Sup­port­ers of the $290 bil­lion bill said it struck the right bal­ance by im­pos­ing new in­come caps to pre­vent gov­ern­ment sup­port from go­ing to the high­est-in­come farm­ers, boost­ing nu­tri­tion and food-as­sis­tance pro­grams, and adding sup­ports for crops not pre­vi­ously cov­ered. They said it will pre­serve the U.S. food sup­ply and en­sure that the coun­try does not be­come de­pen­dent on for­eign food in the way it is now de­pen­dent on for­eign oil.

“The Amer­i­can peo­ple don’t want us to have to wake up to­mor­row and say, ‘Who will feed us, who will clothe us, be­cause we let agri­cul­ture die?’ “ said Rep. Randy Neuge­bauer, Texas Repub­li­can.

Other back­ers praised the bi­par­ti­san na­ture of sup­port and pre­dicted im­me­di­ate drops in both food and gaso­line prices be­cause of pro­vi­sions that re­duce the sub­sidy for pro­duc­ing ethanol from corn.

Al­though some Democrats voted to up­hold Mr. Bush’s veto, call­ing for more re­forms, the early-day bat­tle was mostly on the Repub­li­can side. It pit­ted the party’s top lead­ers against each other and stacked them against both Mr. Bush and Sen. John McCain, their party’s pre­sump­tive pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, raised his op­po­si­tion to the bill last week on the cam­paign trail.

It would have been the sec­ond veto that Mr. Bush has had over­rid­den. The first was the Wa­ter Re­sources De­vel­op­ment Act, which, like the farm bill, con­tained enough perks for mem­bers’ dis­tricts and states to per­suade them to ac­cept the high price tag.

“We have worked over the last 16 months with the Congress in or­der to try and im­prove the farm bill, and Congress has ba­si­cally de­cided to thumb their nose at us,” said White House Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get Di­rec­tor Jim Nus­sle, a for­mer con­gress­man.

Mr. Bush ve­toed the bill just be­fore noon in the Oval Of­fice, say­ing later that it would in­crease taxes, en­rich al­ready wealthy farm­ers at tax­payer ex­pense and pre­vent the U.S. from al­le­vi­at­ing the global food cri­sis.

“For a year and a half, I have con­sis­tently asked that the Congress pass a good farm bill that I can sign. Re­gret­tably, the Congress has failed to do so,” Mr. Bush said in his veto state­ment.

Democrats and Repub­li­cans who sup­ported the bill said it spends less than the 2002 farm bill that Mr. Bush signed into law.

“We are mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion,” said the third-rank­ing House Repub­li­can, Rep. Adam H. Put­nam of Florida, leav­ing him in the po­si­tion of prais­ing a Democrat­spon­sored bill for be­ing fis­cally re­spon­si­ble.

Mr. Armey, though, said the bill rep­re­sented a re­treat from what Repub­li­cans ac­com­plished with the 1996 farm bill, known un­of­fi­cially as “free­dom to farm,” which ended ear­lier price sup­port pro­grams and put farm­ers on the path to broader mar­ket com­pe­ti­tion.

“In ‘96, we had en­vi­sioned a na­tional pol­icy vi­sion for the party. Now what they have is a parochial po­lit­i­cal vi­sion for them­selves,” he said. “They sim­ply are miss­ing the point. They are vot­ing in Congress as if they ex­pect Repub­li­can vot­ers in the na­tion to have the same pri­or­i­ties as Demo­cratic vot­ers.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

White House Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get Di­rec­tor Jim Nus­sle crit­i­cized Congress for stick­ing by the farm bill, say­ing, “Congress has ba­si­cally de­cided to thumb their nose at us.”

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