Veto? Maybe. Override? Probably.
May 19, 2008
If one of the hallmarks of good federal legislation is that it leaves most members of Congress grumbling, then the recently completed 2007 farm bill should glide over its House and Senate hurdles – each chamber votes after my weekly deadline – and land on President Bush’s desk just before the latest 2002 farm bill extension expires May 16.
After the vote, it’s put-up or shut-up time for the White House: The President has promised to veto the $285 billion, five-year legislation so many times (the latest was May 13) that he just may do so regardless the political and market consequences.
Two pieces of news – the size of each approving, bipartisan majority in the Senate and House – might yet turn the President’s stiff neck. If either or both chambers pass the 673-page bill at close to or over the veto-proof, two-thirds majority, the White House may retreat and, reluctantly, sign it.
That’s seems like a long-shot, however, because this is one stubborn Decider. Despite Democratic majorities in both the Senate and the House, President Bush has made his previous vetoes of opposition legislation (Iraq spending, stem cell research, health care for children…) stick.
But this veto, should it occur, would confront the White House with challenges unlike the earlier, easier slam dunks.
First, House-Senate conferees have stitched together a tight, bipartisan bill. Any Republican that wanted a feather or two for his or her in-state nest got it.
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For example, a highly targeted, highly dubious tax break for thoroughbred racehorses was dropped into the re-election kitty of the Senate Minority Leader, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell.
Cost? A couple of hundred million. Benefit? An adept, anti-Dem voice likely will get a case of laryngitis about the time a farm bill floor debate begins.
Also, the GOP-dominated Cotton Gang – not the President’s favorite bogeymen, “tax-and-spend Democrats” – quietly and successfully undercut the President’s key farm demand, meaningful program payment limits. No Southerner endorsed tighter payment limits because no Southerner wants to be de-elected this November.
And, too, the extra $10 billion of food assistance money contained in the bill, a critical element pushed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to whip up votes from Republican and Democratic urban members alike, achieved the city-country marriage hoped for when the farm bill debate kicked off almost 18 months ago.
Indeed, 239 of the 557 groups that signed a May 13 letter urging Congress to pass the farm bill have ties to religious, nutrition or food aid groups. No farm bill ever had such widespread, urban-based support.
A second factor that will give the President second thoughts on a veto is the wholesale support general farm and specific commodity groups have for the legislation.
Those 300 or so groups range from ag’s milk and honey folks, the American Beekeeping Federation and Dairy Farmers of American, to agbiz’s silk and money folks, the National Council on Textile Organizations and every Farm Credit association.
Would the President stick his veto pen in eye of virtually every American food and fiber producer, hauler, manufacturer, wholesaler, retailer and consumer?
Math and politics suggest no.
The math, so far, is balanced. The White House agreed on a farm bill that spends $10 billion more than the 2002 law but only if the additional spending came from budget offsets – no new taxes. Congress delivered just that.
The politics, although more dicey, don’t favor the President, either. The bill’s passage in either chamber by a less-than-veto proof majority is no guarantee Congress won’t override a veto. While the lame duck, unpopular President might have nothing to lose, they do. And November looms even as spring lingers.
Veto? Maybe. Override? Probably.