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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, theearly-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, who raised his opposition to the bill this 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.
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 Democrat-sponsored 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.”
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