Nevada pork in farm bill

Congress gave final legislative approval to a $290 billion, five-year farm bill on May 15. The bill was widely attacked because it was laden with local pork projects and because it provides huge subsidies to agribusiness, an indication that the presidential campaign dialogue on economic populism has done nothing to change the Democratic Party’s corporate orientation in Congress.

The bill produced the peculiar spectacle of a Republican president denouncing handouts to “wealthy farmers at a time of record farm profits” while Democrats in Congress enacted corporate subsidies. One religious group said, “It [the farm bill] leaves intact an unjust system that harms family farmers here and abroad and undermines food security in developing countries.”

White House budget director Jim Nussle said the bill used public funds for lawmakers’ pet projects. The New York Times reported, “Indeed, one could argue that the term ‘farm bill’ is a stretch.”

Nevada-related language in the bill helped make Nussle’s case. The U.S. Agriculture Department pointed to $175 million in the measure to obtain water for desert lakes in Nevada and to restore the Walker River Basin. “It is listed as an earmark that is viewed as not necessary,” said U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesperson Chris Connelly. Sen. John Ensign and Rep. Dean Heller voted against the measure. Reps. Jon Porter and Shelley Berkley and Sen. Harry Reid voted for it. The Nevada language originated with Reid.

Numerous states had such special language. George Bush vetoed the measure on May 21, but he was overridden later that day by the House 316-108 and by the Senate

Ensign and Heller were rare Republicans. Dozens of GOP members of Congress abandoned Bush on the override. A clerical flaw in the bill sent to the president caused Congress to hesitate for a time on how to proceed, but ultimately the veto was overridden by both houses.