WASHINGTON – The House on Wednesday emphatically approved a massive five-year farm bill by a veto-proof margin, setting up President Bush for a major political embarrassment.
Brushing off Bush’s opposition, many Republicans joined a majority of Democrats in approving the farm bill 318-106. This is well over the two-thirds vote needed to override Bush’s promised veto.
The Senate is expected to approve the legislation by a similarly commanding margin as early as this morning. If the farm bill support holds, as lawmakers expect, Congress is on track to hand Bush the second veto override of his presidency. In an election year, even GOP lawmakers stressed Wednesday that they cared more about their rural voters than about Bush’s declining clout.
“I agree that this farm bill is very far from perfect,” said Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, a senior Republican member of the powerful House Rules Committee, “but like many of my colleagues in the House, I must weigh the bill by its impact on my constituents.”
The farm bill’s constantly shifting price tag now has been pegged at $289 billion over five years, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s latest estimate. Over 10 years, if farm programs stayed the same, the bill’s estimated cost exceeds $700 billion.
More than two-thirds of the first five years’ total spending is devoted to nutrition and food stamps, which the bill renames the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Most political attention, though, has targeted the agricultural payments that are the bill’s true foundation.
Traditional commodity subsidies for crops like cotton, rice, wheat and corn remain largely untouched in the new bill. The bill includes a new $3.8 billion permanent disaster payment program, deemed particularly generous for weather-stricken growers in states like Montana and the Dakotas.
The bill offers record spending for fruits and vegetables. Depending on how it is counted, the bill offers between $1.3 billion and $3 billion benefiting special crops through various specialty crop marketing, research and related efforts. This is at least three or four times more than the amount provided under the prior 2002 farm bill.