MAY 16TH, 2008 | ryan.alexander
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, New York Times
WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday approved a five-year, $307 billion farm bill with wide bipartisan support, virtually sealing President Bush’s defeat in a battle over agriculture policy.
Mr. Bush has promised to veto the bill because he says it would not do enough to limit subsidies at a time of record grain prices. His advisers said Thursday that he had every intention of making good on that vow.
The Senate vote, 81 to 15, with 35 Republicans in favor, guarantees an easy override of a veto. The House passed the bill on Wednesday, 318 to 106, also far more than the two-thirds needed to overturn a veto.
Although the measure is universally known as the farm bill, it has far more money to feed the poor, including $209 billion for nutrition programs like food stamps and food banks, according to the Congressional Budget Office, compared with $35 billion for agricultural commodity programs.
“This is a great day for America, not just for farmers and ranchers,” said Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and chairman of the Agriculture Committee, who noted that the bill included money for healthy snacks for schoolchildren, for land conservation and rural development and for producing alternative fuel like ethanol made from switchgrass and other plant matter.
“This is really a farm bill for everyone,” Mr. Harkin said. “I am still hopeful the president will sign it.”
The White House said that there was no reason for lawmakers to be hopeful and that Mr. Bush would veto the bill when he returned from a Middle East trip.
“We will continue to make the case with lawmakers why it is bad for Americans,” said Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman.
Mr. Bush’s objections include the failure of the bill to do enough to limit subsidies, which he has said are difficult to justify in such flush times for producers.
The administration had sought an income cap of $200,000 above which farmers could not qualify for farmer-subsidy payments. The bill sent by Congress limits farm income to $750,000 and non-farm income to $500,000.
The $750,000 limit would apply just to so-called direct payments that are disbursed based on acreage, regardless of market conditions or whether the land is actively farmed. The $500,000 limit applies to all programs.
Currently, there is no limit on farm income to qualify for payments. The limit on non-farm income is $2.5 million.
Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the senior Republican on the agriculture panel, said Congress would override a veto.
“Obviously, I have been very disappointed in the comments coming out of the White House,” Mr. Chambliss said. “But we do have a strong vote in both the House and the Senate, and I think that shows you that in a complex piece of legislation like this, and it truly is because it touches so many different areas of so many different aspects of agriculture and food production, as well as nutrition and conservation and energy, that there is something in this bill for every member of the House and every member of the Senate.”