WASHINGTON — The House easily overrode President Bush's veto of a $307-billion farm bill Wednesday, handing him the most significant legislative rebuff of his presidency after Republicans broke with the White House en masse to side with farm groups, antihunger advocates and the biofuels industry.
With a Senate override vote all but guaranteed today, Congress prepared to deliver only the second veto override of Bush's presidency and the first on a major piece of legislation.
But what should have been a stinging defeat for Bush became an embarrassing episode for Democrats. Through an error in the bill-filing process, the measure reached Bush's desk without the section that governs agriculture trade policies. It inadvertently dropped food aid programs.
That means Bush vetoed a different bill than Congress approved, leaving leaders scrambling to figure out whether it could become law.
Democrats hoped to pass the entire bill, again, today under expedited rules usually reserved for unopposed legislation. Lawmakers also probably will have to pass an extension of current farm law, which expires Friday.
"We will have to repass the whole thing, as will the Senate," said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y. "We can't let the farm bill just die."
The White House, almost gleefully, said the mixup could give Congress time to fix the "bloated" bill.
Wednesday's events also left Republicans arguing publicly over another lapse in their commitment to fiscal discipline. As with the first veto override, which saved the Water Resources Development Act last year, lawmakers of both parties stepped in to save a law that promised to shower billions on key constituents and home-district programs.
"The vote on the farm bill has definitely been a challenge, if you look at it as regaining our fiscal brand," said Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., a GOP leader.
Bush vetoed the bill at midday, declaring that "Americans sent us to Washington to achieve results and be good stewards of their hard-earned taxpayer dollars. This bill violates that fundamental commitment." Bush objected to subsidies for wealthy agribusinesses at a time of high food prices and record farm income.
"The principle purpose of agriculture policy in the United States is to guarantee we're not as dependent on other countries for our food as we are for our fuel," declared House Republican Conference chairman Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, who broke not only with Bush but also with House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, who opposes a bill he has called wasteful.