Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bush veto lets down farmers

During the week when temperatures hit 100 in the West, it would have been hotter if Congress hadn’t finally hammered out a long-awaited farm bill agreement with solid support.

When the final farm bill version passed the House 318 to 106, and the Senate 81 to 15, it ensured enough strength to override the threatened veto by President George W. Bush.

The votes by Congress were needed. On Wednesday, Bush vetoed the bill because he sought key reforms and no new taxes to pay for the farm bill.

In announcing the veto, he had his official mouthpieces offer sharp criticism to legislators.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino urged the politicians to not override the veto, according to Associated Press.

“Members are going to have to think about how they will explain these votes back in their districts at a time when prices are on the rise,” she said. “People are not going to want to see their taxes increase.”

The AP story quoted Perino as saying the bill is $20 billion over the current baseline and “way too much to ask taxpayers right now.”

But the biggest insult to farmers is further comments by Perino: “This bill is bloated,” she said. “When grocery bills are on the rise, Congress is asking families to pay more in subsidies to wealthy farmers at a time of record farm profits.”

It isn’t just “wealthy farmers” who benefit from the farm bill. In fact, two-thirds of the bill’s funds go to nutrition programs such as food stamps and emergency food aid.

As for “record farm profits,” those high prices for commodities are already seeing dips, and not all farmers have seen their particular commodity rise dramatically in the first place.

But what everyone has seen are staggering increases in their input prices eating whatever profits big or small they had made in this past year.

AP reported that “White House budget director Jim Nussle said Americans are frustrated with wasteful government spending and the funneling of taxpayer funds to pet projects.”

What was considered one of the “pet projects” being attacked by critics? More aid in the Northwest for our salmon fishermen.

Few here would argue they are in dire need of help, and something needed to be done fast to save the fishing industry.

While there may be some valid criticisms for the bill, it still deserves to pass. Everyone should urge their politicians to override the President’s veto.

The $300 billion farm bill — down by $5 billion of what the original Senate version requested, and down $4 billion from the original House version — has been an aggravating, frustrating path of politics that kept twisting months after it should have been completed.

Farmers have had to pacify nervous bankers who want stability in farm programs before they provide money for all those sharply rising input costs this spring.

Meanwhile, as we wrote in an editorial a few weeks ago, the process to pass a farm bill has been bogged down in politics, committee jurisdictional skirmishes, financial smoke and mirrors and veto threats.

What was finally accomplished with such strong bipartisan support is not perfect, but has enough in it to satisfy the agricultural community who is unified in demanding the bill move ahead.

Bush’s actions have frustrated politicians on both sides of the political fence, but some of them might actually benefit from his stubborn fight against the proposed bill and forcing an override vote.

“An override vote will benefit a lot of (congressional) members who can then go to their constituents saying they stood up for their farmers,” Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.

Sadly, it was the President that we wanted most to stand up for farmers — and his actions surrounding the farm bill has let the country down.

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