Bush threatens farm bill veto if goals missed

WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush warned on Wednesday he will veto the new U.S. farm law if it raises taxes or fails to cut off subsidies to farmers and land owners making more than $200,000 a year.

“I’m confident we can come together and get a good farm bill,” Bush told Agriculture Department employees. “But if Congress sends me legislation that raises taxes or (does) not make needed reforms, I’m going to veto it.”

It was the strongest statement yet to Congress from the administration of its goals for the omnibus farm law, which covers farm subsidies, land stewardship, nutrition programs like food stamps and rural economic development.

Bush took part in a 15-minute ceremony marking the arrival of Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, who took office a week ago. He said Schafer, a former two-term governor of North Dakota, will work with Congress for a compromise bill.

Lawmakers and the administration have been deadlocked since the start of the year over the five-year, $286 billion bill.

The White House says it will not allow a tax increase, and that the farm bill should cut off subsidies to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Congress says it needs additional revenue to pay for expansions of food, land stewardship and biofuels programs.

Lawmakers agree with the administration in closing loopholes that allow huge crop subsidy payments but they have different ideas on when to cut off subsidies to big operators.

House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson said after the ceremony that Congress and the Bush administration are “making progress” but that almost everything is currently on the table.

“In the last week-and-a-half, they (the administration) have been making a good-faith effort. They weren’t for a while,” said Peterson, Minnesota Democrat.

He said there was no move to cut the $5.2 billion guaranteed annually to farmers in so-called direct payments. Created in 1996, the payments are based on a farm’s past production and are issued regardless of current production or market prices.

Like Peterson, Schafer said he believed agreement was possible. “I think we can narrow the gap,” he said. “I think things are going the right direction.”

Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner, a leader in farm bill discussions, said there was no room in the farm bill for tax increases or budget gimmicks to disguise the cost of the bill and it must include farm subsidy reforms.