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Senate ushers farm bill...most of it...into the law books

As of Thursday, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 is law. But, not everybody on Capitol Hill is bidding it Bon Voyage just yet.

By a vote of 82 to 13, the Senate on Thursday followed the House in overriding President Bush's veto of the farm bill, making most of it law.

Senator Kent Conrad, the North Dakota Democrat who was influential in crafting the bill, said the vote was an historic moment. "This is the first time ever that a presidential veto of a farm bill has been overridden," he said.

"The president tried to send a message with his veto...but today, in the second veto override of the Bush presidency, Congress sent an even stronger message back: This veto will not stand in the way of critical farm, food, conservation and energy investments becoming law," Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) said Thursday. "Not only did this bill pass both chambers with an overwhelming majority, but with the override votes, we held our majorities. This proves we have a good, strong, bipartisan farm bill.

"And after all of our hard work, it is a proud result for Congress as their critical legislation becomes law," he added.

There is still confusion over how a glitch in the whole process will be handled. Senator Saxby Chambliss, the ranking Republican on the Agriculture Committee, said that after members of Congress return from next week's Memorial Day recess, that they may have to take up the bill again.

The bill that President George W. Bush vetoed on Wednesday didn't have the trade title, so the farm law approved by the House and the Senate lacks that portion of the law. Harkin said USDA will be able to continue operating trade and foreign aid programs until the issue is resolved.

"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."

Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a South Dakota Democrat on the House Ag Committee, told reporters Thursday that she was "a bit disgruntled and disgusted" when she learned that an electronic printing machine that printed out the farm bill on parchment for delivery to the White House didn't print the trade title.

So, both the House and Senate Thursday voted again -- both by wide margins -- to approve the full farm bill. Herseth Sandlin said before the House vote that Bush "possibly" might have to veto the complete bill again in order for Congress to resolve the trade title glitch. The Senate may do the same thing after it returns from the recess, as Chambliss pointed out.

Supporters of the farm bill in Congress don't want to leave the farm bill open to legal challenges later if the trade title isn't handled properly. Still, almost concurrent to Thursday's re-approval votes in both chambers of Congress, the Senate voted to override Bush's veto of the farm bill minus the trade title.

"With this override going through, 14 of the 15 titles go into law, omitting the trade title. We're trying to move ahead," said Senate Ag committee majority communications director Kate Cyrul Thursday after the Senate voted to both override Bush's veto and move through the original bill as approved last week. The trade title that was left out of the bill on Wednesday has now been "eviscerated" from the provisions that became law on Thursday.

As for the gap created by the trade title's omission, Cyrul says no lapse in current policy should take place in the two-week timeframe within which lawmakers hope to have the trade law extended.

"We have been in contact with USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development), and in that two-week time period before getting to it, we don't have to extend it," she says. USAID is the agency responsible for distributing international food aid whose work would be affected directly by the potential absense of policy left by the omission of a trade title.

As for the future of the trade title, Cyrul said Thursday the Senate will begin action on moving it through into law after next week's Memorial day holiday recess.

As for the rest of the legislation's near future in Congress, Herseth Sandlin said she's confident that both parties will continue to support the farm bill.

"Leadership on both sides, I think, are making a good faith effort to deal with the situation," she said.

As of Thursday, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 is law. But, not everybody on Capitol Hill is bidding it Bon Voyage just yet.

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