Negotiators finished the new farm bill Wednesday and plan to take it to the floor of the House and Senate in six days amid signals that President Bush's lack of support may not stop it from becoming law.
After a meeting in the Capitol at which the negotiators made changes to the bill to make it fit within CBO scores, House Agriculture ranking member Bob Goodlatte said President Bush had told him he does not support the bill but that House "members need to vote their districts'" interests. "The president did not say anything about vetoing the bill," Goodlatte said. He added that Bush had "spoken kindly" of Goodlatte's efforts to include the president's reform priorities in the bill.
Bush's statement to Goodlatte creates the possibility of a veto-proof, two-thirds majority in the House and Senate for the bill.
There is also the possibility that Bush could allow the bill to become law without his signature. Under the Constitution, the bill would become law automatically without the president's signature if Bush does not act on it for 10 days, with the exception of Sundays, while Congress is in session.
Goodlatte declined to comment on whether Bush would take that route but said, "That's certainly an option that he has."
Bush and his aides have said the new farm bill costs too much and does not include enough reforms to curb farm subsidy payments to wealthy farmers and landowners. Democrats have said they believe Bush hoped to discourage Congress from finishing the bill so he could say in the November elections that a Democratic-controlled Congress could not write a farm bill.
Goodlatte said he intended to support the bill unless he found something objectionable in the conference report. He did not know whether the bill would garner the two-thirds vote necessary for an override. There is "very, very strong support on both sides of the aisle, but it has not been whipped," he said.
Goodlatte went to the White House as part of a delegation of House members to discuss a variety of issues. The exchange between Goodlatte and the president occurred after a week of tense politicking in which Republicans strategized to try to get the president's support and White House staff deflected their efforts.
Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin and Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad both said they still hoped Bush would sign the bill. "This is the most dramatic reform of any farm bill for a very, very long time," Conrad said.
Harkin and House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson said they and the other negotiators would reveal details of the bill today
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said negotiators decided to ban the direct payments that come whether prices are high or low for nonfarmers with adjusted gross incomes of $500,000 per year and for farmers with adjusted gross incomes of $750,000 per year.
Lobbyists said there would be a ban on conservation payments to people with adjusted gross incomes of $1 million per year unless two thirds of that money comes from agriculture or forestry. Lobbyists also said farmers would be able to retain ownership of grain after they receive loan deficiency payments, but those payments would be based on 30-day rolling average prices.
Grassley said the bill would include a sugar-to-ethanol program and a tax package that would cut the ethanol production tax credit from 51 cents to 45 cents, extend the ethanol tariff for two years and create a $1 tax credit for cellulosic ethanol production.
Senate Majority Leader Reid also said Wednesday the Senate would take up the farm bill next week.
This article appears in the May 10, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily.