The situation wasn’t much better in the Senate, where the GOP leader, Mitch McConnell (Ky.), chose home-state pork over principle. Granted, McConnell’s tough re-election bid and parochial interests made it unlikely for him to oppose the bill, but his lack of leadership led 34 other Republicans to vote for the override.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the titular conservatives who supported the farm bill will likely get another chance to do the right thing—at least when it comes to one section of the bill. Because of a clerical error, Title III of the legislation, which deals with trade, was never sent to Bush. Despite the mistake, Democrats moved forward with the override vote, knowing they would have to do something about the missing 34 pages after their Memorial Day recess.
A coalition led by the National Taxpayers Union and Citizens Against Government Waste hopes to convince lawmakers to vote against the missing section of the bill to demonstrate at least some commitment to fiscal responsibility. The taxpayer watchdogs cite several objectionable provisions:
• It spends $200 million annually on a corporate welfare program that gives crop manufacturers and food processors taxpayer money to market their products overseas.
• It props up domestic logging interests with a “U.S. Importer Declaration Program” that would keep out low-cost timber products from international competitors.
• It requires USAID to contribute up to $60 million to a doomsday “seed bank” in Norway.
• It funds the McGovern-Dole Food for Education program at a cost of $84 million for child development and food security in foreign countries.
Although sustaining a veto on this title would certainly send a message in support of fiscal restraint, it would probably be too little too late for Republicans to “regain their fiscal brand.”
Of course, the same can be said about Bush’s sudden desire to get tough with Congress on spending. Had he played hardball at the time of the last farm bill in 2002, the GOP might not be in this predicament today.
Creation of the FIT Force shows that McCotter and his Republican colleagues understand the need to take back the brand of fiscal responsibility. However, this is a full-time responsibility and needs to be treated as such. The farm bill was most certainly a lost opportunity.