Just as he’d promised for weeks, on May 21, President Bush vetoed the near $300 billion farm bill that Congress passed in a landslide vote. At least that’s what everyone thought until it was discovered that Title 3, a 34-page section on trade, wasn’t included in the bill sent to Bush.

The surprising omission, attributed to a gaffe made during the bill’s printing process, sent majority party leadership scrambling for solutions. The mistake also took the sting out of the House’s 316-108 quick override of Bush’s veto. The Senate followed with an override of its own, 82-13.

The flawed bill sent to Bush shows Congress “can even screw up spending the taxpayers’ money unwisely,” noted Dana Perino, White House spokesperson.

There were early concerns about how best to legally square the clerical blunder. Despite calls for Congress to pass the farm bill again — and send it to Bush unabridged — Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, Democratic majority leader, claimed such an approach was unnecessary. Excluding Title 3, the new farm bill is now law and should be immediately implemented, said Reid after consulting with constitutional law experts.

At press time, it appears the Senate will soon approve the trade title in a stand-alone bill. As Congress isn’t in session the week of May 26, a complete farm bill won’t be in place until at least early June.

Veto justification/repudiation

On May 21, after vetoing the new farm legislation, Bush wrote Congress and acknowledged, “it is rare for a stand-alone farm bill not to receive the president’s signature, but my action today is not without precedent. In 1956, President Eisenhower stood firmly on principle, citing high crop subsidies and too much government control of farm programs among the reasons for his veto. President Eisenhower wrote in his veto message, ‘Bad as some provisions of this bill are, I would have signed it if in total it could be interpreted as sound and good for farmers and the nation.’ For similar reasons, I am vetoing the bill before me today.”

Later, USDA Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner told reporters, “This massive spending package — coming at a time of escalating food prices and gas closing on nearly $4 per gallon — in our opinion is simply unacceptable. The president stated time and again that he would not accept a farm bill that fails to reform our farm programs at a time when farm income and crop prices are setting records. He has remained true to his word.

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