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House passes farm bill with veto-proof armor

After debating the farm bill's reforms, or lack of them, and its costs one more time, the House of Representatives defied President George W. Bush Wednesday by passing the bill 318 to 106. That's well past the 290 votes needed to override the President's expected veto. With even stronger support in the Senate, Congress will finish its work on a new farm law this month.

The dwindling number of opponents, who included House Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, criticized last minute earmarks in the bill, including one that would sell part of the Green Mountain National forest in Vermont to a ski resort, and another requested by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) that authorizes the purchase of 400,000 acres of lands in Montana from a single private entity.

"Clearly, most Americans think that Washington is broken, and frankly, this bill is an example of that," Boehner said.

Representative Ron Kind, a Democrat who represents a rural district in Wisconsin and owns a 200-acre farm, made one last call for tougher reforms of payment limits, Only two-tenths of one-percent of commodity program recipients might feel the effect of the bill's adjusted gross income means tests, he said -- $500,000 for nonfarmers and elimination of direct payments to farmers with more than $750,000 AGI.

Over two-thirds of the subsidies will continue to go to the 10% of farms that are the largest entities, he said. "A lot of these big entities are using the subsidies to gobble up the farms around them," he said.

But clearly the momentum was for the farm bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi thanked Kind for his work for more reform in the bill but called it "a good first step" toward reform that needed support.

After the vote, Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, the House Agriculture Committee's ranking Republican, said that the bill had support from Republicans because from the beginning of writing it, "this bill was worked on in a bipartisan fashion."

"This is truly a historic vote," Goodlatte said. "I'm very pleased that both parties cast a majority vote for this bill."

Goodlatte said he was pleased that specialty crop producers who've gotten little from past farm bills got new spending in the legislation. And even though the bill's levels of reform didn't make it to the $200,000 AGI level the White House wanted, he said he was glad that the bill does have some reforms.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, expressed relief at the outcome after the vote.

"There were so many nights at three o'clock in the morning when I didn't think we would get to this point," he said.

Besides thanking his staff and members of Congress for their work on the bill, Peterson said "I am so proud of the Farmers Union and the work of their president, Mr. [Tom] Buis and what he did on this bill."

Buis was involved in working out several compromises between farm group lobbyists, including language for Country of Origin Labeling that was acceptable to meat packers, livestock organizations and consumer groups.

Peterson said that after the Senate votes on the bill Thursday, he expects the legsilation be sent to the White House by next Tuesday, where he believes it will be vetoed promptly. Peterson said that he expects Congress to be able to override the veto before it leaves for the Memorial Day recess.

"I congratulate and commend Chairman Peterson, Ranking Member Goodlatte and the House Agriculture Committee for gaining House passage of the farm bill conference report," said Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. "The House passage of the farm bill conference report on a strong, bipartisan basis demonstrates support for core farm bill initiatives -- conservation, energy, nutrition and rural development -- while continuing and strengthening farm income protection. This bill benefits every American, from our smallest towns to our biggest cities, urban and rural residents, farmers and non-farmers. I now look forward to the Senate approving the measure with a strong vote."

After debating the farm bill's reforms, or lack of them, and its costs one more time, the House of Representatives defied President George W. Bush Wednesday by passing the bill 318 to 106. That's well past the 290 votes needed to override the President's expected veto. With even stronger support in the Senate, Congress will finish its work on a new farm law this month.

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