WASHINGTON - The House passed a $290 billion farm bill Wednesday with a strong veto-proof majority, offering more subsidies for farmers, food stamps for the poor and special projects that lawmakers can bring home to voters.
The 318-106 vote for the five-year bill came despite President Bush's promised veto. He says the measure is too expensive and gives too much money to wealthy farmers.
The Senate is expected to approve the bill as early as this morning. A rejection of a veto may be even easier in the Senate, where 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.
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said the measure is not perfect but he thinks it is balanced. "We've solved a lot of problems in this bill. We have a bill that covers all of the interests in the country."
However, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said, "It heaps the burden on the taxpayers yet again."
Conflict over subsidies
About two-thirds of the bill would pay for nutrition programs such as food stamps. An additional $40 billion is for farm subsidies. It 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. The administration sought a limit of $500,000.
The direct subsidy program has drawn criticism from local groups, such as the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. While the IATP supports the nutrition and food stamps programs funded in the bill, the group says the system is broken.
The bill "doesn't address the central issue from our perspective, which is how do you insure fair prices for farmers so they don't need subsidies," said Ben Lilliston, spokesperson for the IATP. "We'd rather see Cargill and [Archer Daniels Midland] pay farmers a fair price rather than have the government do it."
Minnesotans are split
Only two members from the Minnesota House delegation -- Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann and Jim Ramstad -- voted against the bill.
Bachmann said the bill "exemplifies the very worst of Washington's ways. It is loaded with unbelievably outrageous pork and subsidies."
Ramstad, who has received federal payments from farm land in North Dakota, also objected to the subsidies. He said, "Congress should not force hard-working taxpayers to subsidize millionaire farmers."
Rep. Tim Walz, whose district in Southern Minnesota encompasses thousands of farms, said it's a bill he can live with even though more reform is needed. "There's a deep concern now as food prices go up," the Democrat said.
Peterson said he expects the bill to hit the president's desk Tuesday. But first, the Senate is to vote today.
Minnesota's senators both support the measure.
"This farm bill supports working families," said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she will continue to push for changes so subsidies go to "the nation's hard working farmers and not to urban millionaires."
Staff writer Conrad Wilson, the Associated Press and McClatchy News Service contributed to this report.