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House to Revote on Farm Bill

Two days before the Memorial Day recess, the House devolved into chaos Wednesday night over a technical error in the farm bill. After a tumultuous night, Democrats are planning Thursday to reintroduce and pass the bill again in its entirety, which will delay a vote on the budget. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the enrolling clerk inadvertently omitted the entire Title III section of the bill after the House and Senate had both passed it, but before it was sent to the president. The mistake was not noticed by lawmakers or President Bush until after the president had vetoed it. The House proceeded to override Bush’s veto, 316-108, late on Wednesday. But House GOP leaders quickly objected, raising constitutional issues. Hoyer told reporters Wednesday night that the House would likely vote on a reintroduced farm bill under suspension of the rules on Thursday. “We will pass a full bill again,” Hoyer said Wednesday night. The House also plans to pass an extension of the existing farm bill, which is set to expire this week. Hoyer said he would detail the decision on the floor Thursday morning and instruct the House to take up the farm bill before moving on to the defense authorization bill. But a White House spokesman used the opportunity to take a second whack at the bill. “It looks like it may be back to square one for them,” Scott Stanzel said. “This would be a perfect time to fix all of the problems in the bloated bill, including the earmarks, budget gimmicks and increased subsidies for wealthy farmers.” The House Rules Committee voted Wednesday night to allow House leaders to bring up farm legislation Thursday on suspension. Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) called the rule “an insurance policy” that allows for Hoyer and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) to work out an agreement on how the bill should advance. Rules ranking member David Dreier (R-Calif.) raised constitutional concerns and sought to strike the farm provisions from the rule. “This is not the way to deal with an issue as serious as this,” Dreier said. The fiscal 2009 budget conference report, slated for adoption Wednesday night on the House floor, now appears to be off the schedule until after the recess. The farm bill faces a Senate pay-as-you-go rule violation if it is not passed before the budget resolution. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had put the budget resolution on the top of Thursday morning’s schedule, but the House chaos could also delay that move. Republicans, meanwhile, harkened back to Democratic protests over a $2 billion enrolling error in the Deficit Reduction Act signed by Bush in 2006. That action resulted in a slew of lawsuits. House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who coincidentally was a plaintiff seeking to void the deficit reduction bill, said he hoped his bill would avoid that fate. “There better not be any damn lawsuits. I’m tired of it,” he said of the bill. But Republicans were not so sanguine, with Boehner saying he might even make a motion to vacate the override vote. “What’s happened here raises serious constitutional questions,” Boehner said. “I don’t know how we can proceed with the override as it occurred.” “Nor do I think we should proceed with some attempt to fix it until such time as we understand what happened, what are the precedents of the House and how do we move forward,” Boehner said. House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) contended that a president could not selectively veto portions of a bill, and said such a move raised all kinds of constitutional questions. “The concept that we can start sending bills over piecemeal … is a flawed concept,” Blunt said. Blunt later told reporters that the House and Senate should redo the farm bill in its entirety to avoid legal problems. “I’d like to see a farm bill pass that no judge can say is not the farm bill,” Blunt said. Peterson learned of the glitch late Wednesday, after Bush vetoed the bill. “For some reason, the machine didn’t print it out and nobody noticed it,” Peterson said. Peterson said he was told the president’s staff noticed the error after he vetoed it. Title III of the farm bill, dealing with trade and foreign aid provisions, was omitted as a result. Peterson said that they had asked the Parliamentarians if they could simply re-enroll the bill and send it to the president, but the Parliamentarians objected. “After all I’ve been through, I thought, ‘What can happen today?’” Peterson said. Vicki Needham, Jennifer Bendery, Ashley Roque and Geof Koss contributed to this report.

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