May 15, 2008


Congress approves $290 billion federal farm bill

By Jim Turner


    WASHINGTONWith enough votes to override a presidential veto, a $290 billion farm bill has been approved by Congress that proponents say increases money for nutrition programs and subsidies for farmers during the economic downturn.


Congressman Tim Mahoney, D-Palm Beach Gardens, who sits on the House Agricultural Committee, said the compromise bill between the House and Senate will let the struggling citrus industry fight disease, pay for biofuel research in Florida, and could allow programs critical for Everglades and Indian River Lagoon restoration move forward.


“This farm bill, in combination with the energy bill already signed into law, completes the foundation upon which Florida will build the biofuel industry that will power America’s engine and make us more secure,” Mahoney said Wednesday after the House approved the bill. “It means more jobs for our state and it means our children will be able to stay in rural Florida and have jobs in the future.”


The White House has called the bill — which could pump million of dollars in grants and loans to South Florida’s sugar and other biofuel industries — too expensive and too generous to wealthy farmers.


Mahoney said that is a sign that the President “has lost touch with reality and what’s happening with rural America. And I think the (House) vote proves that.”


The bill, supported by most Democrats and one Republican in the House, includes numerous projects that lawmakers can bring home to voters this election year. Included in the bill are: tax breaks for Kentucky racehorse owners; extra help for farmers in Hawaii and Alaska; dollars for salmon farmers in the Pacific Northwest; incentives for non-profits to buy land from Montana’s Plum Creek Timber Co.; allow extra payments to tobacco growers; provide extra money for Nevada lakes and North Dakota wetlands; and supply more food stamps for the needy.


The 318-106 vote in the House and 81-15 Senate vote on Thursday for the five-year bill came despite President Bush’s promised veto.


With Farm income expected to exceed the 10-year average by 50 percent this year, President Bush has noted that married farmers who make up to $1.5 million can still collect subsidies.


“I believe doing so at a time of record farm income is irresponsible and jeopardizes America’s support for necessary farm programs,” Bush said.


Congress has only overridden one Bush veto — on a wide-ranging water projects bill — during his presidency.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.