WASHINGTON – The House overwhelmingly rejected George W. Bush's veto Wednesday of a $290 billion farm bill, but what should have been a stinging defeat for the president became an embarrassing episode for Democrats.
Only hours before the House's 316-108 vote, Bush had vetoed the five-year measure, saying it was too expensive and gave too much money to wealthy farmers when farm incomes are high. The Senate then was expected to follow suit quickly.
Action stalled, however, after the discovery that Congress had omitted a 34-page section of the bill when lawmakers sent the massive measure to the White House. That means Bush vetoed a different bill from the one Congress pass, leaving leaders scrambling to figure out whether it could become law.
Democrats hoped to pass the entire bill, again, on Thursday 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 glitch also forced Democrats Wednesday to jerk their election-year fiscal blueprint from the House floor. The nonbinding budget plan has already been delayed by more than a month.
The farm bill includes election-year subsidies for farmers and food stamps for the poor — spending that lawmakers could promote when they are back in their districts over the Memorial Day weekend.
The veto was the 10th of Bush's presidency. Congress so far has overridden him once, on a water projects bill.
With Bush at record lows in the polls in the waning months of his term, it was fellow Republicans who joined with majority Democrats in rejecting the veto. GOP lawmakers are anxious about their own prospects less than six months from the Election Day.
About two-thirds of the bill would pay for nutrition programs such as food stamps; about $40 billion is for farm subsidies; and additional $30 billion would go to farmers to idle their land and to other environmental programs.
Congressional Republicans overwhelmingly abandoned Bush in voting to pass the bill last week, overlooking its cost amid public concern about the weak economy and high gas and grocery prices. Supporters praised the spending on food stamps and emergency food aid.
"Twenty-five percent of my state is now in need of food assistance," said Rep. Thaddeus G. McCotter, R-Mich. "I work for them, not for the president."
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the bill could make the situation worse for struggling families.
"Members are going to have to think about how they will explain these votes back in their districts at a time when prices are on the rise," she said. "People are not going to want to see their taxes increase."
Bush said the legislation needlessly would expand government. He cited one new program in the bill that would pay more to corn growers and others if agriculture revenue were to drop significantly in the next five years. This program, he said, could add billions of dollars to the cost of the bill.
He added that minor cutbacks to subsidies for wealthy farmers were not sufficient.
"At a time when net farm income is projected to increase by more than $28 billion in 1 year, the American taxpayer should not be forced to subsidize that group of farmers who have adjusted gross incomes of up to $1.5 million," the president said in his veto.