Farm Bill Full of Goodies for Both Rich and Poor

By Beacon Staff

WASHINGTON – The House moved Wednesday toward passing a $290 billion farm bill that contains more subsidies for farmers as well as big increases in food stamps and other nutrition aid to help people with skyrocketing grocery prices.

Supporters hoped for enough votes to override a promised veto by President Bush.

Some Republicans criticized the mostly bipartisan, politically popular bill on the floor for including several state projects that lawmakers are hoping to bring home this election year.

“This bill has been under consideration for a long, long time, and yet still we have earmarks that have been ‘air dropped’ into the legislation,” said Arizona GOP Rep. Jeff Flake.

Bush has balked at the cost, saying the measure is too expensive and gives too much money to wealthy farmers.

Roughly two-thirds of the five-year bill would pay for the nation’s nutrition programs, including food stamps and emergency food assistance for the needy. It also would pay for about $40 billion in farm subsidies and almost $30 billion for growers to idle their land and other environmental farm programs.

The Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday put the bill’s final cost at $290 billion over five years, based on figures compiled this week by congressional budget experts. The bill had been estimated to cost about $300 billion.

The bill also contains a few home-state projects, including tax breaks for Kentucky racehorse owners, extra help for farmers in Hawaii and Alaska and dollars for salmon fishermen in the Pacific Northwest.

Supporters of the bill are hoping the home-state projects and the money for the needy will bring in enough votes to send the White House a strong message.

The tax break for horse owners was included by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Money for salmon fishermen affected by the collapse of the salmon fishing season in California, Oregon and Washington was included by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif. Another provision would give extra money to “geographically disadvantaged farmers” in Alaska and Hawaii.

The Department of Agriculture sent out its own list of provisions that officials found deep within the 673-page conference report, which was released in its entirety Tuesday. The department highlighted provisions that it said would allow extra payments to tobacco growers and provide extra money for Nevada lakes and North Dakota wetlands.

The legislation also includes language by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., that would allow state and local governments to issue bonds to help conservation organizations buy private lands. That provision would provide incentives for non-profits to buy land from Montana’s Plum Creek Timber Co.

Though the language appears to be tailored for Montana, Baucus said the provision is a “model for other states” that would help keep pristine private lands out of the hands of developers.

The bill also contains $3.8 billion — sought by Baucus — that would pay farmers who lose crops to weather-related disasters — a priority for farmers in Montana and the Dakotas.

Bush, who opposed the bill Tuesday because it would send too much money to wealthy farmers. He noted that married farmers who make up to $1.5 million can still collect subsidies.

“I believe doing so at a time of record farm income is irresponsible and jeopardizes America’s support for necessary farm programs,” Bush said.

Congress has only overridden one Bush veto — on a wide-ranging water projects bill — during his presidency.

Associated Press Writer Frederic J. Frommer contributed to this report.