Just as the U.S. House finished its triumphant override of President Bush's farm bill veto Wednesday evening, Democratic leaders discovered that the document the president had vetoed wasn't the same one they had passed.
Turns out 34 pages of parchment were missing -- still just a fraction of the 1,768-page bill, but enough to cause a full-blown legislative meltdown on the House floor Thursday morning.
House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio called it a constitutional "quagmire" and demanded a do-over.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, the Minnesota Democrat shepherding the bill through Congress, acknowledged the mess, which he called "unfortunate."
For a while, it looked as if Congress would have to pass the entire farm bill all over again.
But with a weeklong Memorial Day recess looming, farm-state Democrats seemed disinclined to return to their districts in an election year without a new five-year farm bill, especially one already overdue by a year.
The Bush administration, railing against the size of the farm subsidies in the bill, seized on the mistake. "I think what this clearly shows is that they can even screw up spending the taxpayers' money unwisely," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
As embarrassed Democratic leaders scrambled to find a way out, the House dutifully voted again to pass the farm bill. Meanwhile, congressional parliamentarians scoured the record books for some precedent. They had to reach back to 1892, to a law involving Marshall Fields. It suggested that the missing pages could be passed as a separate measure.
With the crisis seemingly averted Thursday afternoon, the Senate went ahead with its own veto override, thereby enacting all but the missing section of the farm bill, which deals with international trade and food aid.
But Republicans, savoring the Democrats' disarray, continued to question whether anybody really knew what was in or out of the revived farm bill.
"Did you read this?" asked Boehner, holding up a massive printed text of the farm bill.
"Not this morning," Peterson replied.