Politics & Government

Senate passes farm bill, setting up veto override

WASHINGTON — President Bush will now follow the lead of the late Dwight Eisenhower by vetoing a comprehensive farm bill.

Bush, though, is no Eisenhower.

On Thursday, the Senate, by a comfortably veto-proof 81-15 margin, approved a farm bill that now faces a resistant White House. Bush says he'll veto the five-year package, much as Eisenhower nixed a big farm bill in April 1956.

Eisenhower won his showdown, the last time a president vetoed a major, standalone farm bill. Bush, on the other hand, will lose. The House of Representatives and Senate now have both approved the farm bill by more than the two-thirds vote needed to beat a veto.

"Mr. President, you and your people have been at the table for more than a year," Republican Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho declared Thursday morning. "It's time you recognize the value of this project."

Craig was one of 35 Republican senators to abandon Bush on Thursday and support the farm bill. On Wednesday, 91 GOP House members voted for the bill, defiantly boosting the House's approval to a veto-proof margin of 318-106.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republicans' presumptive presidential candidate, missed the vote Thursday but said he opposed the bill. Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois both support the bill, but likewise missed the vote.

"I know we're not going to stop this bill," Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., conceded Thursday, adding, "We're on an unsustainable fiscal course."

The chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, termed the legislation "a great bipartisan bill" on which lawmakers have "worked together for a year and a half."

The bill largely retains traditional crop subsidies while boosting fruit and vegetable spending. The bill devotes two-thirds of the dollars to nutrition programs and food stamps, which are renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Critics say the bill relies on gimmicks to camouflage its true costs. The bill's authors use one set of budget assumptions to put the five-year price tag at $289 billion, while the Congressional Budget Office states that from 2008 to 2012, "spending on the programs (the bill) covers would be about $307 billion."

The bill's 673-page conference report includes myriad provisions.

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, for instance, included language that she says closes "the Enron loophole." The language essentially tightens federal Commodity Futures Trading Commission oversight of electronically managed energy markets, which Enron allegedly manipulated during California's 2000-20001 energy crisis.

In other cases, the farm bill nails down policies Congress approved previously but never took effect.

Country-of-origin label requirements, for instance, date back to the 2002 farm bill, but then stalled under industry pressure. The new bill clarifies how retailers will initiate country-of-origin labels for meat, fruits, vegetables, fish and certain nuts by Sept. 30.

Congress will send the legislation to the White House by next week. With little mystery left about what Bush will do, or how Congress will respond, the final legislative stages could pass quickly and quietly.

Eisenhower's dismissal of the 1956 farm bill — which he termed "contradictory and self-defeating" — was one of 73 vetoes issued during his eight years. Congress quickly rewrote the bill to his satisfaction. And with his public approval ratings sometimes soaring as high as 70 percent, Eisenhower only had two of his vetoes overturned by Congress.

Presidents have vetoed other types of farm policy revisions, including a 1975 veto by President Ford of an emergency boost in various crop subsidies. Congress sustained Ford's veto.

Bush, whose approval ratings now hover around 31 percent, has vetoed nine previous bills. Congress has overridden him once, on a $23 billion water resources bill that lawmakers loaded with hometown projects, much like the farm bill.

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