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House forced to revote farm bill

- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hours after voting to approve just the second veto override of President Bush's tenure on the massive farm bill, a colossal blunder means the House will have to have a do-over and repass the entire bill anew.

A clerical error meant the version of the bill that Mr. Bush vetoed yesterday differed from the version passed last week by Congress, and House Democrats said they will have to go through the whole vote process again.

The flub turned a Democratic political victory into a major - albeit likely temporary - embarrassment, and gave Republican opponents more time to rally opposition and an excuse to crow about majority party incompetence.

The vote was 316-108, with 100 Republicans joining 216 Democrats to override the presidential veto, while 14 Democrats and 94 Republicans voted to uphold it. The Senate had passed the original bill by a veto-proof 81-15 margin.

Those margins left conservative leaders to ponder what happened to the fiscal conservative message that used to be the backbone of Republican election victories.

"The fact that the numbers are that bad demonstrates to me how seriously the Republican Party is lacking vision in the House," said former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, an architect of the 1994 Republican revolution who accused his party of buying into pork-barrel parochial politics. "It's probably a microscopic picture of how badly Republicans have lost their way."

But such angst was forgotten last night as Democrats scrambled to rework their calendar, vowing to pass the entire bill, again, through both chambers of Congress. That version then would be sent to Mr. Bush for another expected veto and another override attempt. Congress also will have to extend the current farm law, which expires tomorrow.

"We will have to repass the whole thing, as will the Senate," said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat. "We can't let the farm bill just die."

In the moments after the override passed early in the evening, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, pointed out that the bill that Mr. Bush vetoed lacked one of the 12 sections of the bill that Congress passed.

"I have doubts about the constitutionality of what we're doing," the Ohio Republican said.

The White House told Congress that the printing glitch was another reason to ditch the bill and start again.

"We haven't found a precedent for a congressional blunder of this magnitude," said spokesman Scott Stanzel, adding that Congress should use the delay to write a bill Mr. Bush can sign.

Republican leadership aides said the gaffe also means that Democrats won't be able pass a budget until after they return in June from Memorial Day break.

The blunder sapped the joy from Democrats, who just hours earlier had been touting the bipartisan vote against Mr. Bush.

"Today the House overwhelmingly rejected the president's misguided veto of the farm bill," said Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

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, the early-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.

"For a year and a half, I have consistently asked that the Congress pass a good farm bill that I can sign. Regrettably, the Congress has failed to do so," Mr. Bush said in his veto statement.

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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