President George Bush had threatened for months to veto the farm bill. He said it fails to reform farm subsidy programs. Late this afternoon USDA Secretary and North Dakota native Ed Schafer said the president would make good on his threat. Schafer said he met with Bush yesterday.
"He was direct and clear," Schafer said. "The president will veto this bill."
Despite what appears to be a certain veto, Congress still plans to move ahead.
A representative of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Congress is still expected to vote on the farm bill next week and send it to the president.
House and Senate negotiators had been optimistic that they could convince the president to sign the bill.
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, said the bill will significantly reform the farm subsidy program. The new legislation says farmers who make over $750,000 a year will not qualify for subsidies. For non-farmers, the cap is $500,000. But those caps are still higher than the president wants.
The negotiators also reduced a key ethanol subsidy, cutting the blenders credit by six cents a gallon or 12 percent. Ethanol has been blamed as one reason for rising food prices. The farm bill negotiators mostly dismissed that argument, saying things like rising oil costs and world demand are the key factors in rising food prices.
But congressional democrats clearly see high food prices as a way to sell the farm bill. Rep. Collin Peterson said the legislation responds to the pain Americans are feeling from higher food costs.
"We're showing 73 1/2 percent of the spending in this bill goes to nutrition," Peterson said. "There's a ton of money in here for food banks, food shelves, that need it. There's improvements in the food stamp program and what better time to make this kind of contribution."
Overall though many groups pushing for farm reform are not happy with the legislation. They say it still pays farmers too much in subsidies during a time when some are making record incomes, thanks mainly to high grain prices. Sen. Tom Harkin said even with those sorts of criticisms, it's a good package.
"I am a happy man," said Harkin.
But Harkin's joy didn't last long. Shortly after he spoke USDA Secretary Schafer announced the impending veto. Assuming the President carries out the threat, Congress needs a two-thirds vote to override the veto.
If Congress fails to override the veto, it appears there are two options. Congress can extend the old farm bill while they continue negotiations with the White House on new provisions. Or they can walk away, which seems unlikely.
If Congress would walk away, farm legislation passed in the late 1940's would be resurrected and take jurisdiction over agricultural programs. It provides significantly higher prices supports for farm commodities, like milk, than current legislation does.