Politically popular farm bill gets election-year boost

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Thursday, May 15, 2008
— Rising food costs and the upcoming election have fueled bipartisan support for a politically popular $290 billion farm bill full of extra money for food stamps and farm subsidies, despite strong opposition from President Bush.

The Senate is expected to approve the five-year bill and send it to Bush on Thursday, one day after the House supported the legislation overwhelmingly. Supporters garnered 318 votes in that chamber, 28 more than needed to override his promised veto. 100 Republicans voted for the bill.

Bush has said the legislation is fiscally irresponsible and pays too much money to wealthy farmers. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer reiterated Bush's veto threat Wednesday by saying it is a "bloated, earmark laden bill."

About two-thirds of the bill would pay for nutrition programs such as food stamps and emergency food aid for the needy. An additional $40 billion is for farm subsidies while almost $30 billion would go to farmers to idle their land and to other environmental programs.

Rejecting a veto by Bush would be even easier in the Senate because farm states have greater representation than they do in the House. Congress has only overridden one veto, on a water projects bill, during Bush's two terms.

Congressional negotiators tried for weeks to come closer to the White House on the amount of money paid to wealthy farmers one of the chief sticking points with the administration.

The legislation would make small cuts to direct payments, which are distributed to some farmers no matter how much they grow. The farm bill also would eliminate some federal payments to individuals with more than $750,000 in annual farm income or married farmers who make more than $1.5 million.

Individuals who make more than $500,000 or couples who make more than $1 million jointly in nonfarm income also would not eligible for subsidies.

Under current law, there is no income limit for farmers, and married couples who make less than one-fourth of their income from farming will not receive subsidies if their joint income exceeds $5 million.

The administration originally proposed a cap for those who make more than $200,000 in annual gross income, but later indicated it could accept a limit of $500,000. Previously, negotiators were considering a $950,000 income cap on farm income.

The bill would also extend dairy programs, increase loan rates for sugar producers, and include new money for fresh fruits and vegetables that have not previously been included in farm bills.

Last updated: 9:09 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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