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House, Senate override farm bill veto

Most of the 2008 Farm Bill become law Thursday when the U..S. House joined the U.S. Senate in overriding President Bush's veto of the $290 billion, five-year federal farm program.

Becoming new law is 14 of the bill's 15 titles, settling confusion that arose Wednesday after the House overrode the veto in a 316-108 vote.

The farm bill Congress approved last week and the bill sent to the White House weren't the same bill. Somehow in formally printing the congressional version for White House perusal and action, Title III, a 34-page section detailing trade policy, was omitted.

Bush's veto pertained to the one-title-short farm bill, so confusion came over what version the House overrode on Wednesday.

"Following veto override votes of 316-108 in the House and 82-13 (Thursday) in the Senate, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 has been enacted into law, with the exception of the bill's trade title," U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District, said Thursday.

"The trade title was included in the conference report passed by Congress but was inadvertently left out of the official copy of the farm bill that the president vetoed," said Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

Thursday, he said, "the House also took action to correct the clerical error that resulted in the unintentional omission of the trade title from the enrolled farm bill and ensure that the entire farm bill is enacted into law swiftly. Most of the farm bill is now law and the administration can begin implementing the new programs and policies immediately."

Meanwhile, both of Minnesota's senators praised the Senate's 82-13 override vote Thursday.

The "overwhelming vote was an indication that we produced a strong, bipartisan farm bill that is good for our farmers and ranchers and essential to our state.," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn.

"Thanks to the leadership of Chairmen Collin Peterson and Tom Harkin, we have a bill that improves the farm safety net and ensures that our farmers will continue to provide America with a safe, abundant food supply and sources of renewable energy<" she said.

"It includes a significant step toward payment reform, makes the improvements in the safety net for sugar and dairy producers that I have advocated, establishes a permanent disaster relief program and invests in new renewable energy initiatives while providing for the critical nutrition and conservation programs we need."

The bill includes income caps on direct subsidy payments of $750,000 for farmers and $500,000 for non-farmers, with the previous 2002 Farm Bill only capping incomes of non-farmers at $2.5 million over which they'd get no subsidy.

"Going forward, I will continue to push for additional payment reforms to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and go to our hardworking farmers, not urban millionaires," said Klobuchar, who attempted to amend the Senate version to include income caps.

Thursday's vote "to override the farm bill veto is a testament to the capacity of Americans to work together, regardless of regional or political affiliation, to do what is right for the nation" said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.

"This bipartisan victory comes from a common recognition that this bill is about food security for every American who goes to the grocery store, as well as for those who cannot afford to," he said. "The farm bill provides a critical safety net to protect our farmers when prices are low and times are tough.

"Moreover, it expands the use of renewable fuels, establishes a permanent disaster assistance program, strengthens conservation and invests heavily in nutrition programs to provide for those who are struggling to put food on the table," the Republican said

Both Coleman and Klobuchar are members of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

"Minnesota agriculture generates $55 billion in economic activity and underpins 367,000 jobs, and this bill will go a long way toward helping our farm families continue feeding and fueling the nation," Coleman said.

In joint statement, Peterson and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., ranking Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act "makes historic new investment in food, farm and conservation programs that are priorities for all Americans, which is why a broad, bipartisan coalition voted overwhelmingly to pass this bill.

"While no one got everything they wanted in this farm bill, we struck a balance that meets the pressing needs of working American families struggling with high food prices and that supports America's farmers and ranchers as they continue to provide a safe, abundant, homegrown supply of food and fiber while protecting our natural resources and developing new sources of renewable energy," they said.

The White House, which opposed the commodity title for not imposing lower subsidy caps, said it had hoped Congress would use the clerical snafu to reconsider the whole farm bill and pass another that would be signed with lower income thresholds.

The House on Thursday took another vote, this time with the missing section included, and that 306-110s vote is still enough to override a veto. The Senate may do the same, but Democrat leaders said they'd deal with that matter in June, after the Memorial Day recess.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said Thursday that the confusion over farm bill versions "gives them (Congress) one more chance to take a look and think about how much they're asking the taxpayers to spend at a time of record farm income. The Congress had an opportunity to ... implement reforms, much needed reforms, and they decided not to. And I think with this move it shows that they can even ... screw up spending the taxpayers' money unwisely."

Nearly two-thirds of farm bill spending is targeted to nutrition programs such as food stamps. All of $10.4 billion in new money to the bill will go to nutrition programs.

The bill also includes a new energy title, providing $1 billion for renewable fuels research.