(Updated at 3:45 p.m.)
President Bush has vetoed the Farm Bill, but it appears the U.S. House and Senate will move to override the president’s action, perhaps as soon as today.
"This is frankly another sad example of a president who is just aloof and out-of-touch with the country," Iowa Senator Tom Harkin says. "This is a good bill that’s earned overwhelming, bipartisan support in congress. It’s supported by an extraordinary coalition of farm and conservation, nutrition, energy, consumer and religious groups, but the president has stubbornly insisted that his assessment of the bill is right and everyone else is wrong."
Deputy Ag Secretary Chuck Conner says the Farm Bill "grossly overspends in typical Washington, D.C. fashion."
"(The new Farm Bill) failed to implement meaningful reform to our farm programs while increasing taxpayer spending by over $20 billion," Conner says. "This massive spending package that comes at a time of escalating food prices and gas closing in on $4 a gallon in our opinion is simply unacceptable."
Conner calls the bill "folly" for the way it allots money for farm subsidies because the the president sought tougher limits that would have forbidden farm payments to "millionaires."
"The president has stated time and time 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 and he has remained true to his word," Conner says. "It is irresponsible to ask (the) American taxpayer who is struggling to make ends meet to subsidize farm couples and those that make more than a million dollars a year."
In addition, Conner says the bill is laden with pork, with millions set aside for a ski resort in Vermont and $170-million for the salmon industry. "The administration supports our farmers and ranchers and has sought good policies that will move agriculture forward and rural America forward," Conner says. "Unfortunately, this bill continues to support programs that benefit those who do not need it and because of this our non-farmers in America today are justifiably questioning the rationale and the fairness behind Farm Bills in general."
Conner concedes it’s unlikely the president will be able to muster enough support among Republicans who voted for the Farm Bill to sustain a veto override in congress.
Senator Harkin, chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, says the bill will become law — over the president’s veto. "The new Farm Bill won support from both parties, from every region of the country and fron rural and urban members of congress alike," Harkin says. "You can’t get much more bipartisan than 318 votes in the house and 81 votes in the senate."
Harkin also points out two-thirds of the spending in the bill is for food assistance for the nation’s poorest citizens. He rejects the Bush administration claim that the legislation gives Farm Bill critics ammunition because it extends farm subsidies when commodity prices are high and farmers are making money. "As I keep pointing out, there’s not one new dollar in this bill…that goes to a farmer who’s making money. Not one," Harkin says. "It’s all for counter-cyclical. It’s all in case prices drop, the bottom falls out (of the markets), that kind of thing."
You may listen to all of Harkin’s comments about the president’s veto, as well as Conner’s news conference in Washington, D.C., by clicking on the audio links below.