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Farm bill veto promised

Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer told reporters Thursday that President George W. Bush will veto the farm bill, which drew an immediate reaction from some of the farm group leaders who had just announced the bill's completion.

"Like any compromise bill resulting from hard bargaining among regional and other interests, this farm bill is far from perfect. But no piece of legislation is perfect. It includes significant reforms..." said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin in a statement. "It deserves the President’s signature. Inexplicably, the White House seems intent on destroying the harvest just as the seeds are being planted."

Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), Budget Committee Chairman and a key player on the Senate Agriculture Committee's farm bill drafting, also expressed disappointment.

"Perhaps most frustrating is the President's continued refusal to negotiate on a bill that represents a historic boost in nutrition funding, opens the doors to greater energy independence, and helps secure the safest, healthiest and most abundant food supply in the world. The [Bush] administration has showed a willing disregard for those farmers and ranchers who produce the nation's food," Conrad said.

So far, Republican farm bill leaders are sticking with the bill, too.

Representative Bob Goodlatee of Virginia, the ranking Republican on the House Agriculture Committee released a statement after Schafer's veto announcement saying that he supports the final farm bill agreement from the farm bill's conference committee.

"The agreement that we've constructed addresses nutrition, renewable energy, and conservation, among others, while maintaining a safety net that allows for the continued production of an abundant, safe and affordable food supply. We've made great strides in reforming farm programs to reduce benefits going to the wealthiest of farmers and non-farmers alike, require direct attribution of benefits, establish a revenue-based counter-cyclical program, strengthen beneficial interest, and strengthen the integrity of the crop insurance program in addition to several other significant reforms. For the first time in history, we're putting a hard cap on the adjusted gross income (AGI) standard to prevent the wealthiest from receiving payments. That's a significant step!" Goodlatte said. His statement didn't directly address the latest veto threat.

Farm bill supporters in Congress are now working on getting enough support in both chambers to override the President’s expected veto.

When asked if that's likely, National Farmers Union President Tom Buis told Agriculture Online. I hope so. I think it's overall a good bill."

The President has called the new farm bill "bloated," but like beauty, bloat is in the eye of the beholder.

Buis points out that the new farm bill will cost $53 billion less than the 2002 farm law. The big increases in spending are for nutrition programs and food aid, he said.

And, even though the bill's lack of reform has been criticized by some conservation groups as well as the White House, Buis said that the Congressional Budget Office estimates that reforms in the bill will save about $2.5 billion.

"For those who say there's not reform, they're not being truthful. There is reform, maybe not as much as everybody wanted, or that particular group wanted," Buis said.

Ferd Hoefner, of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, told Agriculture Online that much of that reform savings includes a reduction in the ethanol tax credit. Savings from changes to the payment limitations themselves
will amount to about $200 million over the next five years, a small percentage of the bill's total cost of about $300 billion.

"Those savings are primarily from cutting the payment limit for single bachelor farmers who used to be able to use the three entity rule, plus preventing dead people from collecting checks, and preventing rural McMansions with no crops from collecting checks. Not much to write home about," Hoefner said in an e-mail message. "We stand by what we have been saying -- there is no significant payment limit reform in this bill."

Still, there are other things in the farm bill that his group likes, including more money for conservation programs, help for beginning farmers and money to help farmers make the transition to organic farming.

Buis also has a long list of things his group likes, including its top priority of a new permanent disaster program.

And he believes members of Congress not from farm states will find things they like, too.

"There's a billion and a half (dollars) for food banks," Buis pointed out.

"Once members see all the benefits and don't just read the headlines that it's all going to farmers -- and it's not -- I think there will be widespread support in the House and Senate," he said.

Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer told reporters Thursday that President George W. Bush will veto the farm bill, which drew an immediate reaction from some of the farm group leaders who had just announced the bill's completion.

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