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The farm bill is a piece of legislation that typically has so much that so many lawmakers like. As usual, the new bill would set policy for everything from crop subsidies to food stamps for the next five years. But critics have appeared, arguing the bill doesn't do enough to cut subsidies at a time of near record crop prices, and the White House has supported that criticism with a threat to veto the bill. Plus Republicans are angry at a last-minute tax hike that would affect companies that are foreign owned, in places like Bermuda.
Here's NPR's Brian Naylor.
BRIAN NAYLOR: The farm bill is one of those rare issues in Congress that most of the time engenders wide bipartisan support. Farm state lawmakers from both parties line up behind the payments to farmers in the form of crop subsidies and insurance programs. And that appeared to be the case this year as well - until yesterday. That's when Democrats said that in order to fund a $4 billion expansion of nutrition programs, including food stamps, they would close a tax loophole affecting foreign companies that have U.S. subsidiaries.
Republicans like Deborah Pryce of Ohio cried foul.
Representative DEBORAH PRYCE (Republican, Ohio): In the 11th hour the Democrat leaders blindsided America with the news of how they were going to pay for this bill by putting 5.1 million American jobs at risk.
NAYLOR: Pryce mentioned the Honda plant in Ohio that she said would be affected by the tax increase. Illinois Republican Donald Manzullo mentioned a plant in his district.
Representative DONALD MANZULLO (Republican, Illinois): Nissan Forklift in Marengo, Illinois, would be hit with a 10 percent tax increase. They're not based in Bermuda. These are common American people - the ones who get up at the crack of dawn. They represent the manufacturing people of this country and the Democrats are hurting them. Don't hurt my workers.
NAYLOR: Democrats countered that Republicans were exaggerating the tax's impact, and noted that the Bush administration had itself called for the loophole to be closed. North Dakota Democrat Earl Pomeroy questioned the political judgment of House Republicans opposed to that.
Representative EARLIER POMEROY (Democrat, North Dakota): They'd rather protect the tax cheaters in Bermuda than help the farmers of this country. And man, I'd hate to go home and try and sell that one, because if that's not priorities tipped on their head, I don't know what is.
NAYLOR: The price tag of the farm bill approaches some $290 billion over five years. And Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, in announcing the White House veto threat, said it misses a major opportunity. While the bill does end subsidies for farmers earning more than a million dollars, critics say it stops well short of real reforms.
The White House wanted subsidies cut off at $200,000. Democrat Ron Kind of Wisconsin offered an amendment to end subsidies to farmers earning more than $250,000 a year.
Representative RON KIND (Democrat, Wisconsin): Simply put, let's help farmers when they need it. Let's not when they don't. The committee bill before us, however, will continue giving taxpayer subsidies to individuals with an adjusted gross income of $1 million. It will spend $26 billion in subsidies to commodity producers who are receiving at or near-record commodity prices.
NAYLOR: But Kind's amendment was handily defeated, 309 to 117. The farm bill represents a delicate political balance for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had to weigh the needs of farm state freshmen Democrats against promises for reform.
The bill does contain a few changes to existing policy, including $1.8 billion in subsidies to growers of fruits and vegetables, and a requirement that meat be labeled with its country of origin.
Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro said that was something even non-farm state lawmakers could support.
Representative ROSA DELAURO (Democrat, Connecticut): Crops that are so crucial nationwide from New England to California. And with an agreement on the implementation of mandatory country-of-origin labeling. This bill represents a victory for consumers and a positive first step toward improving food safety in the United States.
NAYLOR: Even if it does win passage today, the future of the House farm bill is unclear. The Senate is likely to go its own way when it gets around to writing its version of the legislation when Congress returns from its summer recess in September.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.
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