The federal farm bill that President Bush vetoed and that the Congress has enacted despite him is, to be sure, a flawed document. For instance, there are still too many of the wrong kinds of subsidies directed to agribusiness interests and hobbyists rather than working farmers.
But with its web of programs designed to feed the poor, conserve natural resources, keep working farmers on the land and aid rural communities, this farm bill came to present a necessary compromise.
Of the roughly $300 billion in spending authorized by the measure, two-thirds of the money goes for nutrition programs such as food stamps. Another $30 billion pays for environmental initiatives. Farm subsidies account for around $40 billion in spending, and many of the subsidies — though certainly not enough — actually go to aid small farmers who employ responsible agricultural practices.
The measure also extends new protections to African-American farmers who experienced discrimination at the hands of the US. Department of Agriculture, implements a country-of-origin-labeling program long advocated by consumer groups and provides new assistance to initiatives that are designed to get fresh, locally-grown food to school kids, the elderly and people living in institutions.
That’s why the House voted 316-108 to override the president’s veto, and that’s why the Senate will do the same in short order.
Perhaps a lame-duck president can afford to be, in the words of Senate Agriculture Committee chair Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, “aloof and out of touch with the country.”
Perhaps Arizona Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president who acknowledges his ignorance when it comes to the real-life economic challenges facing working Americans, thinks he can get away with supporting George Bush’s stance.
McCain, who is a more militant supporter of corporate-friendly trade policies even than Bush, objected to what he described as the farm bill’s “flawed policies that distort the markets.” Translation: The measure was too good for Main Street and not good enough for Wall Street.
The man McCain is likely to face in the November election, Democrat Barack Obama, embraced a different set of priorities.
“By opposing the bill, President Bush and John McCain are saying no to America’s farmers and ranchers, no to energy independence, no to the environment, and no to millions of hungry people,” argued Obama.