WASHINGTON – A $300 billion farm bill contains a little something for everyone, including tax breaks for Kentucky racehorse owners, extra help for farmers in Hawaii and Alaska, dollars for salmon farmers in the Pacific Northwest and more food stamps for the needy.
Supporters of the bill are hoping that such goodies will bring in enough votes to send the White House a strong message when the House and Senate consider the bill’s final version this week. President Bush has threatened to veto the five-year bill, saying it is too expensive and too generous to wealthy farmers.
The House is expected to take up the politically popular, bipartisan legislation Wednesday and the Senate should follow by the end of the week, when current farm law expires. A two-thirds majority in both chambers — a harder feat in the more urban House — would neutralize the administration’s threat.
“My goal is to get over 300 votes tomorrow,” House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said Tuesday. “We have the possibility of getting that done. Three-hundred votes seals the deal.”
Two-thirds of the massive bill would pay for the nation’s nutrition programs, including food stamps. Most of the rest of the legislation would provide subsidies for farmers and conservation programs that protect the land.
Also buried in the bill are incentives for various regions designed to garner votes. A tax break for horse owners was included by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Money for salmon farmers affected by the collapse of the salmon fishing season in California, Oregon and Washington was included by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif. Another provision would give extra money to “geographically disadvantaged farmers” in Alaska and Hawaii.
The legislation also includes language by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., that would allow state and local governments to issue bonds to help conservation organizations buy private lands. The provision that would provide incentives for non-profits to buy land from Montana’s Plum Creek Timber Co.
Though the language appears to be tailored for Montana, Baucus said the provision is a “model for other states” that would help keep pristine private lands out of the hands of developers.
The bill also contains $3.8 billion by Baucus that would pay farmers who lose crops to weather-related disasters — a priority for farmers in Montana and the Dakotas.
Bush again criticized the bill Tuesday for sending too much money to wealthy farmers. He 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,” he said.