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'The dog ate my trade title': Farm bill progress grinds to a halt on missing papers

Agriculture.com Staff 05/22/2008 @ 10:29am

Maybe the copy machine broke down. Maybe somebody spilled coffee on it. Whatever it is, something happened to the farm bill's Trade Title on the way to the White House.

The Trade Title of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 was, for one reason or another, omitted from the final version of the bill sent to the President's desk on Wednesday. The title's omission makes Wednesday's successful override vote in the House of Representatives -- the first step in what would have been only the second presidential veto in Bush's almost eight years in office -- null and void. Still, the Senate was working Thursday on its own veto override.

Barring any potential legal action surrounding the omission of the 35-page Trade Title, the full bill now goes back to the House and Senate for floor votes, then back to the Oval Office, only to be sent back to Congress for another round of override votes in the event of another likely veto.

In other words, the farm bill will still be the farm bill -- not the farm law -- by Memorial Day. With the latest extension of the '02 bill expiring at week's end, it appears another two-week extension will be in order.

"You've got a constitutional problem here. The bill the President signed is not the bill Congress passed," says Iowa State University agriculture law specialist Roger McEowen. "It raises constitutional questions."

"What they can do about it is make sure the bill they passed is what the President signs. You'll see another bill to the President's desk. The new bill is going to have to have both bodies of Congress pass it and get that bill through without a Trade Title missing."

This isn't the first time a clerical error has held up legislation. McEowen says a similar problem nearly derailed the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. A "paperwork issue" resulted in numerous lawsuits that led all the way to the Supreme Court. "The President signed it into law, but it wasn't what both chambers passed," McEowen says.

Justices in the high court ultimately found precedent in "some very old case law" that proved the mistake wasn't enough to derail the entire piece of legislation.

McEowen says a new two-week extension of the 2002 farm bill is now likely, as Congress will be on recess next week to observe the Memorial Day holiday. Thursday may begin the "expedited voting" process in the House.

"What we'll probably see is today, the House is going to vote under rules that will prevent any amendment, limit debate and require a two-thirds majority for passage," McEowen says. "They probably think they can get that majority because of the wide margin the first time through. Then, my guess is probably a vote on a stopgap bill to extend the current bill."

"The veto override is necessary today to enact 14 of the 15 titles passed by Congress," adds a Senate Agriculture Committee staffer. "We will then move as quickly as possible to remedy the lack of the trade title."

Maybe the copy machine broke down. Maybe somebody spilled coffee on it. Whatever it is, something happened to the farm bill's Trade Title on the way to the White House.

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