President Bush's veto Wednesday of a $300 billion farm bill shows that he's "aloof and out of touch with the country," Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin said Wednesday.
Harkin said the farm bill received support from a broad coalition of farm, energy, religious and conservation groups and wide support in both parties. Both Iowa senators as well as western Iowa Repressentative Steve King voted for it.
"You can't get much more bipartisan than 318 votes in the House and 81 votes in the Senate," said Harkin in a conference call with Iowa reporters. Harkin heads the Senate Agriculture Committee and was a driving force in shaping the five-year farm legislation.
It was the 10th veto of Bush's presidency.
The House quickly rejected the veto within hours of Bush's decision - an action that had only been taken once before in his two terms. The Senate was poised to follow suit today with the stark rebuke of the president, who insists the bill is was too expensive and gave too much money to wealthy farmers.
Bush argued that the measure comes at a time of rising food prices and amounts to a tax increase on working families, an argument Harkin rejected.
"There is not one new dollar in this bill that goes to a farmer who is making money," he said.
He said spending in the measure is largely focused on agland conservation, alternative energy and nutrition programs for the needy.
"The president is using bogus numbers," Harkin said.
Harkin said approval of the new measure was stalled while lawmakers tried to reach agreement with the White House, but after no resolution could be found they decided to move ahead.
Though most attention on the farm bill is focused on subsidies paid to farmers, Harkin said everything from school lunches to food stamps to ecology depends on the bill. One aspect that gets little attention is a healthy snack program, where schools get fruit to replace candy.
"This bill speaks to the health of our school kids," Harkin said.
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."
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.