Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ag Secretary Signals Bush Veto of House Farm Bill

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns on Wednesday warned of a likely presidential veto of the 2007 Farm Bill in its current form.

Despite the veto threat, the House of Representatives is expected to take the bill to the floor for a vote this week, and has the support of a broad bipartisan coalition of members of Congress and farm-advocacy organizations.

Johanns said that he and other Bush administration policy advisers are unanimous in calling for a presidential veto of the bill.
"The administration appreciates the work of the House ag committee," said Johanns during a press conference made available to reporters across the country. "We recognize long hours were spent going through many, many amendments. But we believe that the bill put forth by the committee misses a major opportunity. The time really is right for reform in farm policy and we feel strongly that the House bill fails to provide that."

His chief gripes with the bill involve costs and the lack of significant reform in the farm commodity payment system. The bill exceeds the administration's cost proposal by $36 billion, Johanns said, and would require new taxes for funding. "The Ways and Means Committee has now signaled an intention to raise taxes on certain businesses," he said. "Our understanding is this tax increase would be used to pay for the House farm bill. Let me be clear about how I view this. I find it unacceptable to raise taxes to pay for a farm bill that contains virtually no reform."

House agriculture committee Chairman Collin Peterson fired back with a feisty response. "This farm bill is supported by a broad spectrum of agriculture, conservation, nutrition and renewable energy advocates," said Peterson, a Democrat from Minnesota. "It represents a carefully crafted compromise that includes substantial reforms and new investments in programs that matter, including fruit and vegetable production, nutrition programs, conservation and renewable energy. Our bill implements Country of Origin Labeling, improves food safety, and paves the way for energy independence while preserving the safety net that our farmers and ranchers need," he said in a press release.

This is not the first time that the Bush administration has issued these kinds of threats, Peterson added. The administration "vigorously opposed the 2002 Farm Bill, which Secretary Johanns and others now praise as 'the right bill at the right time.'"
"Political posturing is par for the course for this administration," he said. "And they have failed to pursue and achieve compromise on any number of issues, including the farm bill. The House Agriculture Committee put together a balanced, fiscally responsible Farm Bill, and I am confident that the House of Representatives will stand with us in supporting this important legislation."

Johanns went into great detail regarding what he calls the bill's lack of "real reform" in farm programs. While the bill does not include hard caps on the amount that an individual can receive in farm program payments, it does include a provision that would eliminate from programs all farm operators making over $1 million annually in gross adjusted income.
"Current law contains an (annual gross income) cap of $2.5 million" said Johanns. "The House bill decreases the AGI cap, but only to a million dollars annually." The House AGI approach would save only $473 million during a 10-year period, he said, but reforms proposed by the Bush administration would save $1.5 billion. He said he believes strongly that there's a point at which people should "graduate from receiving government cash subsidies."

Later in the day, Peterson fired off another press release defending the farm bill and labeling Johanns' statements as a mischaracterization of the facts. "At every turn, the Bush administration and Republican leadership have done their best to stall progress on the 2007 farm bill," he said. "Apparently, the Bush administration and some in the Republican leadership care more about defending the ability of foreign companies to exploit a loophole in the U.S. tax system than they do about supporting the hard-working families and farmers in this country. I hope that they will reconsider their opposition and join us in supporting this Farm Bill that represents a new direction for agriculture policy."

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