House OKs farm bill by veto-proof margin

May 15, 2008|By McClatchy-Tribune

WASHINGTON -- The House emphatically approved a major five-year farm bill by a veto-proof margin yesterday, 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.

"We've solved a lot of problems in this bill," said Rep. Collin C. Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat who is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. "We have a bill that covers all of the interests in the country."

For the first time, the bill includes funds for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, which would be guaranteed $690 million over 10 years, with more expected after the first five.

"This is much-needed good news for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Montgomery County Democrat who had pushed for the money. The entire Maryland delegation voted for the bill.

The Senate is expected to approve the legislation by a similarly commanding margin as early as today. If the farm bill support holds, as lawmakers expect, Congress is on track to hand Bush the second veto override of his presidency.

The farm bill's constantly shifting price tag is now pegged at $289 billion over five years, according to the Congressional Budget Office's latest estimate. Over 10 years, if farm programs stay 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 such as 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 such as Montana and the Dakotas.

The bill offers record spending for fruits and vegetables. Depending on how it is counted, the bill would provide 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 2002 farm bill.

Sun reporter Matthew Hay Brown contributed to this article.

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