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Farm Bill Proves Hard to Resist

The House backed the farm bill conference report by a 3-to-1 margin Wednesday, brushing aside fiscal concerns and likely ensuring a swift override of President Bush’s promised veto.

The bill passed 318-106, and even Republicans backed the nearly $300 billion measure by a 100-91 margin, defying sharp criticism from Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Republican Study Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and Budget ranking member Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

They blasted the measure as a budget-busting porkfest that failed to rein in wasteful farm subsidies and included earmarks “air-dropped” into the bill.

Boehner said the bill “symbolizes a broken Washington.”

“This approach signals that Congress intends to continue wasting Americans’ hard-earned money at a time when millions of families are struggling to make ends meet,” he said. “We shouldn’t support it.”

But for most Members, the fruits of the farm bill proved irresistible, with something for everyone, ranging from citrus subsidies to ethanol subsidies to increased spending on food stamps.

House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.), Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.) and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) were among leading Republicans who voted for the bill. Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) joined Boehner in opposition.

Putnam defended his vote despite the split it created in the party and the president’s criticism.

“I don’t think the farm bill is going to be the defining issue in the November elections,” he said. He also argued that it was $58 billion cheaper than the previous farm bill.

But President Bush’s budget director, Jim Nussle, decried the bill for including earmarks and continuing to pay people not to farm.

“It costs too much, does not have reforms, and Congress cannot help themselves,” Nussle said during a C-SPAN interview. “There is money for dry lake beds in Nevada. I wonder who is getting the benefit from that? There is no reason for that, particularly when the budget is tight and spending is a concern in Congress.”

Most Blue Dogs voted for the bill even though it includes billions in budget gimmicks and violates pay-as-you-go budget principles.

Blue Dog Co-Chairman Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) dismissed the criticism of the bill as violating PAYGO. “I consider that as a technical issue that was covered in the rule we passed today. I don’t consider it that big a deal.”

And Boyd noted that Blue Dogs largely wrote the bill on the House side. Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) is a Blue Dog, as are five of six subcommittee chairmen.

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