House Democrats voted Friday to approve a farm bill that would continue generous farmers' subsidies at a time of record crop prices, ignoring a veto threat and yowls of protest by Republicans over a tax provision that they said spoiled bipartisan support for the bill.
The bill passed, 231-191, with 19 Republicans joining 212 Democrats in favor, after a morning of rancorous debate and some hooting and howling that focused not on agriculture policy but on the tax provision inserted to pay for a $4-billion increase in food stamps. The plan would impose new taxes on certain multinational companies with U.S. subsidiaries.
The relatively swift passage of the $280-billion five-year bill was a victory for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who untangled a thicket of competing interests. Pelosi faced accusations from fellow Democrats that she abandoned her demands to reform the subsidies in favor of protecting potentially vulnerable freshman Democrats from rural districts.
Pelosi hailed the bill as historic for ending subsidy payments to farmers earning more than $1-million a year, creating support for fruit and vegetable growers, and for increasing money for nutrition, land conservation and other programs like researching alternative fuels such as cellulose-based ethanol.
"Future farm bills will never look the same as those of the past," she said on the House floor.
The House vote sets the stage for complicated negotiations when the Senate takes up its version of the farm bill in the fall.
In addition to the veto threat by the White House, which is demanding that Congress lower the farmer's income-eligibility ceiling, the World Trade Organization is expected to rule on complaints by countries like Brazil and Canada that the subsidies violate free trade agreements.
In an interim report this week, the WTO ruled that the United States had failed to change cotton subsidies, allowed under the previous farm bill, enough to conform to global trade rules.
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns repeated on Friday the administration's displeasure with the current farm bill, especially the tax provision.
"There's no need to raise taxes to deliver a good farm bill," Johanns said.
Democrats said they were closing a loophole and cracking down on foreign tax-dodgers, while Republicans called it a massive tax hike that would affect manufacturers that provide millions of jobs in their districts.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, hinted of the challenges ahead. "There are a lot of good features in the House bill, and of course there are others I believe the Senate will improve upon," he said.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
How they voted
The House passed the farm bill by a 231-191 vote.
Voting yes were Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, and Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.
Voting no were Reps. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor; Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville; Adam Putnam, R-Bartow; and C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores.