House Passes Farm Bill Despite Veto Threat
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
A massive $286 billion farm bill passed the House today. It's called a farm bill, but actually it funds much more than agriculture for the next five years. It also includes tens of billions of dollars for land conservation, food stamps and more. The farm bill had enjoyed broad bipartisan support until Democrats attached a corporate tax increase to pay for the bill.
NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports on today's House session.
ANDREA SEABROOK: The word of the day is geography. Here's why.
When it comes to the farm bill - this giant agricultural funding program that includes everything from crops, to conservation, to food stamps - political loyalties take a back seat in Congress. It's all about where lawmakers come from - geography. For example, Nebraska Republican Lee Terry comes from grain-farming country, so naturally, he supports the farm bill's expansion of program to fuel for more than just corn.
Representative LEE TERRY (Republican, Nebraska): We can't do it all with ethanol from corn, sweet sorghum and switchgrass are going to be a key component.
SEABROOK: Or take Nydia Velasquez. She's a Democrat from Brooklyn, New York. So what she cares about in the farm bill is food stamps and inner city farmers markets.
Representative NYDIA VELASQUEZ (Democrat, New York): Farmers markets and other non-conventional food retail sites are essential and play a large role in bringing our community nutritious food.
SEABROOK: The lawmakers who don't support the farm bill generally complained that its $42 billion in crop subsidies are unfairly weighted towards old school field crops like cotton, wheat and sugarcane, and violate the spirit of global free trade. That's why President Bush has threatened to veto it.
The bill does address some of these concerns by expanding subsidies to fruits and vegetables for the first time and by barring farmers who make more than a million dollars a year from cashing in on subsidies. And remember the word of the day, right - geography. Almost none of the lawmakers objecting to crop subsidies come from big agricultural districts.
What did cause some farm-minded folks to vote against the bill was an attachment they called a tax hike. Though Democratic leaders call it closing a tax loophole, the measure would affectively raise the taxes of some foreign corporations operating in the U.S. and help pay for the farm bill's $286 billion cost.
Louisiana Republican Jim McCrery said it's an unfair tax hike on what he called respectable companies.
Representative JIM MCCRERY (Republican, Louisiana): Honda, Bridgestone, Toyota, BASF, Panasonic - they're not tax dodgers. The jobs they create here are good, high paying jobs. By raising taxes on these businesses by more than $7 billion over the next decade, we will make America a less attractive place for them to invest.
SEABROOK: Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer countered that Republicans are great at spending money on credit, but bad at paying the bills.
And Texas Democrat Lloyd Dogget said raising these taxes on foreign companies is the best way to fund the farm bill without raising the federal deficit.
Representative LLOYD DOGGETT (Democrat, Texas): Today, we stand and choose. We choose for the farm families that need this assistance in the small American businesses that are paying their fair share of taxes, and we reject the notion that the only way you can get a foreign company to come to America and compete with them is to tell the foreign company that they should pay less taxes than the Americans. It's a clear choice.
(Soundbite of applause)
SEABROOK: In the end, the bill did pass the House by a vote of 231 to 191 - a comfortable margin. It would have passed by much larger numbers if those tax provisions hadn't been there. But standby, with a bill this size, spanning so many federal government programs in nutrition, rural assistance, environmental conservation and agriculture, passing the House is nothing more than a first step.
Now, it crosses the Capitol, to the Senate, which doesn't quite move at the same pace of the House. The Senate hasn't even held one hearing on the farm bill so far. When it does, you can bet, senators will want some significant changes before it becomes law.
Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.
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