Bush vetoes $300 billion farm bill

May 21, 2008 10:17:35 AM PDT
President Bush vetoed the $300 billion farm bill on Wednesday, calling it a tax increase on regular Americans at a time of high food prices in the face of a near-certain override by Congress. It was the 10th veto of Bush's presidency. But since it passed both houses of Congress with veto-proof majorities, his action will likely be overridden.

The president believes the legislation is fiscally irresponsible and gives away too much money to wealthy farmers, yet his criticism rang hollow with lawmakers from both parties who voted for increased crop subsidies, food stamps for the poor and other goodies to help their districts in an election year.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said lawmakers should think twice before they override Bush's veto.

"Members are going to have to think about how they will explain these votes back in their districts at a time when prices are on the rise," she said. "People are not going to want to see their taxes increase."

Perino said the bill is $20 billion over the current baseline - "way too much to ask taxpayers right now."

"This bill is bloated," she said. "When grocery bills are on the rise, Congress is asking families to pay more in subsidies to wealthy farmers at a time of record farm profits."

About two-thirds of the bill would pay for nutrition programs such as food stamps and emergency food aid for the needy. An additional $40 billion is for farm subsidies while almost $30 billion would go to farmers to idle their land and to other environmental programs.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said that the measure will drastically increase nutrition initiatives that will help 38 million U.S. families put food on their tables. She made it clear she would have preferred smaller farm subsidies, but deferred to some Democratic colleagues looking ahead to the fall campaign.

Some Republicans criticized the mostly bipartisan and popular bill because a few home-state pet causes, including tax breaks for Kentucky racehorse owners and additional aid for salmon fishermen in the Pacific Northwest.

The bill also would:

-Boost nutrition programs, including food stamps and emergency domestic food aid, by more than $10 billion over 10 years. It would expand a program to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to schoolchildren.

-Increase subsidies for certain crops, including fruits and vegetables excluded from previous farm bills.

-Extend dairy programs.

-Increase loan rates for sugar producers.

-Urge the government to buy surplus sugar and sell it to ethanol producers for use in a mixture with corn.

-Cut a per-gallon ethanol tax credit for refiners from 51 cents to 45 cents. The credit supports the blending of fuel with the corn-based additive. More money would go to cellulosic ethanol, made from plant matter.

-Require that meats and other fresh foods carry labels with their country of origin.

-Stop allowing farmers to collect subsidies for multiple farm businesses.

-Reopen a major discrimination case against the Agriculture Department. Thousands of black farmers who missed a deadline would get a chance to file claims alleging they were denied loans or other subsidies.

-Pay farmers for weather-related farm losses from a new $3.8 billion disaster relief fund.