Agriculture Secretary Schafer said today the Bush administration faces a tough fight to sustain President Bush's planned veto of the farm bill, while key senators started a campaign to convince Bush to change his mind. In a telephone news conference, Schafer said Congress "had put something in there for everybody," making it difficult to vote against. "I do know we have an uphill battle here to sustain a veto," Schafer said. He added that there is a possibility Bush's veto may hurt Republican candidates in congressional races in November, but said he is proud of the president for sticking to his position. Schafer said he has not talked about the bill with House Minority Leader Boehner, who has announced he would not vote for it. "We don't know what is going to happen as far as contacting members," Schafer said. House Agriculture ranking member Bob Goodlatte said Bush told him members should vote their districts' interest, but Schafer said Goodlatte may be engaging "in wishful thinking" if he thinks the administration will not lobby to try to sustain the veto.
Senate Agriculture ranking member Saxby Chambliss said Schafer's Thursday statement that Bush would veto the bill was premature and sends the wrong signals regarding the intent of the new farm bill. "There is no question we have worked diligently over the last several months to craft a bipartisan and fiscally responsible farm bill that moves in the direction of what the administration requested," he said. "We have written a good farm bill and it merits a presidential signature. I am hopeful once the Administration learns the details of the bill, they will reconsider their position."
Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus and Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad held a news conference today to detail what they said were inaccuracies about Schafer's and Deputy Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner's characterizations of the bill Thursday. Conrad said "the most disingenuous" of the administration's claims is that the farm bill would raise subsidies to farmers in a time of high prices. The higher target prices and loan rates would trigger subsidy payments only if prices fell dramatically, Conrad noted. The Bush administration, he added, had proposed increasing the direct payments program that reformers have criticized for making payments to farmers whether prices go up or down.
Schafer today criticized the bill for easing eligibility for food stamps, saying that, as in the battle over making more children eligible for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, Congress "would have government get more immersed in people's lives." But Ellen Vollinger of the Food Research Action Center said the only provisions in the bill to ease food stamp eligibility were those proposed by the administration: not counting combat pay for active-duty soldiers and savings in retirement and education accounts in the calculation of food stamp applicants' assets.
This article appears in the May 10, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.