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House overrides Bush veto of U.S. farm bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House on Wednesday voted to override President George W. Bush’s veto of the $289 billion farm bill that expands public nutrition programs for poor Americans but does not cut subsidies for wealthy farmers as much as Bush demanded.

A tractor is silhouetted on a hillside in Prairie City, Iowa, November 16, 2007. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Noting that food prices are forecast to rise by 5 percent this year, lawmakers said it was important to enact the farm bill because it would expand the food stamp program, the largest U.S. antihunger program.

The farm bill adds $10.4 billion to nutrition programs over 10 years, including $7.9 billion for food stamps and $1.25 billion for donations to food pantries. Nearly 28 million Americans receive food stamps.

The House voted 316-108 to override the veto. With election season at hand, half of House Republicans voted to override rather than stand with an unpopular president.

A two-thirds vote is required for an override.

The Senate scheduled an override vote for Thursday that would enact the bill into law. It would be the second override of 10 vetoes by Bush.

Two-thirds of farm bill spending would go to nutrition. The five-year bill also increases funding for land stewardship and biofuels development. It cuts crop insurance and crop supports by several billion dollars over 10 years.

House Republican Leader John Boehner questioned whether the override was constitutional because a clerical error deleted the trade section of the bill from the formal copy given to Bush. Agriculture Committee leaders said they would restore the title later.

In his veto message, Bush said the farm bill, by failing to cut crop subsidies enough, would send tax dollars to multimillionaire farmers while Americans pay higher grocery bills. The White House says the bill contains $10 billion in budget gimmicks, grants higher supports to wheat, soybeans and sugar, and runs contrary to U.S. goals of freer farm trade.

“At a time of high food prices and record farm income, this bill lacks (farm) program reform and fiscal discipline,” Bush wrote in a veto message to Congress. He said the bill increases subsidy rates for 15 crops and runs contrary to U.S. efforts for freer world trade in agriculture.

To carry out a shift in U.S. policy on biofuels, the farm bill cuts the tax credit for corn-based ethanol by 12 percent, to 45 cents a gallon, and creates a $1.01-a-gallon tax credit for ethanol made from cellulose. The bill also has loan guarantees to build cellulosic ethanol plants and would pay farmers to experiment with biomass crops.

It was the first veto of farm legislation since December 6, 2005, when President Clinton vetoed a budget-cutting bill that included the “Freedom to Farm” plan.

The Bush administration was dubious of the bill’s keynote reform -- an income ceiling for access to farm subsidies. The bill would deny all subsidies to people with more than $500,000 a year in off-farm income and bar “direct” payments to those with more than $750,000 a year in farm income.

“Virtually no one in America is going to be impacted and that is a missed opportunity,” said Deputy Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner.

Writing by Charles Abbott; Editing by David Gregorio