When the Senate returns next week after its Memorial Day recess, it will consider the farm bill (H.R. 6124) again with the trade title included. The House passed this bill before leaving for the recess. President George W. Bush can either veto the bill again or sign it into law. If the President vetoes the bill, the House and Senate will have to vote again to override. With the strong override votes in the House and Senate last week, it’s expected the veto would be overridden.

Just as he’d promised for weeks, President Bush on May 21 vetoed the near $300 billion farm bill that Congress passed in a landslide vote. At least that’s what everyone thought until it was discovered that Title 3, a 34-page section on trade, wasn’t included in the bill sent to Bush.

The surprising omission, attributed to a gaffe made during the bill’s printing process, sent majority-party leadership scrambling for solutions. The mistake also took the sting out of the House’s 316-108 quick override of Bush’s veto. The Senate followed with an override of its own, 82-13.

The flawed bill sent to Bush shows Congress “can even screw up spending the taxpayers’ money unwisely,” noted Dana Perino, White House spokesperson.

There were early concerns about how best to legally square the clerical blunder. Despite calls for Congress to pass the farm bill again – and send it to Bush unabridged – Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, Democratic majority leader, claimed such an approach was unnecessary. Excluding Title 3, the new farm bill is now law and should be immediately implemented, said Reid after consulting with constitutional law experts.

Following the May 21 veto, Deputy USDA Secretary Chuck Conner told reporters “this massive spending package – coming at a time of escalating food prices and gas closing on nearly $4/gal. – in our opinion is simply unacceptable. The President stated time and again that he would not accept a farm bill that fails to reform our farm programs at a time when farm income and crop prices are setting records. He has remained true to his word.

“It is irresponsible to ask the American taxpayer, who is struggling to make ends meet, to subsidize farm couples and those who make more than $1 million a year. Simply put, this is bad policy and it is unfair policy.”

Conner insisted that as more details of the “spending bill” surface “we learn more about the taxpayer abuses and unsound policies in the bill. Just recently, it was brought to light that a $170-million earmark for the salmon industry was slipped into the bill in the dead of night. It joins other egregious earmarks.”

In his letter, Bush listed some of those: “$175 million to address water issues for desert lakes; $250 million for a 400,000-acre land purchase from a private owner; funding and authority for the non-competitive sale of national forest land to a ski resort; and $382 million earmarked for a specific watershed.”

Before calling on Congress to extend current law, Conner claimed last-minute changes to the farm bill had been made. This includes the “so-called ACRE farm subsidy program that will likely result in tens of billions of dollars of new government outlays in the future… Under our cost analysis, if we return to $3/bu. corn – and that’s much higher than the five-year average market price for corn – this bill would have an additional $10 billion of outlays just for one crop. We’d have similar proportions for wheat, soybeans and rice.”
-- P. Scott Shearer, Washington, D.C. correspondent; and David Bennett of Farm Press