Farm Bill Glitch Stalls House

Posted May 21, 2008 at 6:40pm

Two days before the Memorial Day recess, the House devolved into chaos Wednesday night over a technical error in the way the farm bill was sent to President Bush, who vetoed it on Wednesday morning.

According to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the enrolling clerk inadvertently omitted the entire Title III section of the bill after the House and Senate had both passed it, but before it was sent to the president.

The mistake was not noticed by lawmakers or President Bush until after he had vetoed it. The House proceeded to override Bush’s veto, 316-108, late on Wednesday.

But House GOP leaders quickly objected, raising constitutional issues and harkening back to Democratic protests over a $2 billion enrolling error in the Deficit Reduction Act signed by Bush in 2006. That action resulted in a slew of lawsuits.

House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said he hoped his bill would avoid that fate.

“There better not be any damn lawsuits. I’m tired of it,” he said of the bill.

But Republicans were not so sanguine, with House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) saying he might even make a motion to vacate the override vote.

“What’s happened here raises serious constitutional questions,” Boehner said. “I don’t know how we can proceed with the override as it occurred.”

“Nor do I think we should proceed with some attempt to fix it until such time as we understand what happened, what are the precedents of the House and how do we move forward,” Boehner said.

Hoyer suggested that leadership from both sides of the aisle meet to hammer out a compromise with the current farm bill expiring on Thursday and a one-week recess set to start Friday night.

Noting that Title III was not controversial, Hoyer suggested that the House take it up under suspension of the rules on Thursday and then send it on to the president. He did not see any constitutional issues at first glance, the Democrat noted, because both the House and Senate passed an identical farm measure.

But House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Miss.) contended that a president could not selectively veto portions of a bill, and said such a move raised all kinds of constitutional questions.

“The concept that we can start sending bills over piecemeal … is a flawed concept,” Blunt said.

Blunt later told reporters that the House and Senate should redo the farm bill in its entirety to avoid legal problems.

“I’d like to see a farm bill pass that no judge can say is not the farm bill,” Blunt said.

Boehner conceded that mistakes happen, but said that the House should not have moved forward with an override vote once the mistake became clear.

“In deference to all Members, we could have waited before consideration of the override so all Members could understand what they’re dealing with,” Boehner said.

Peterson learned of the glitch late Wednesday, after President Bush vetoed the bill.

“For some reason, the machine didn’t print it out and nobody noticed it,” Peterson said. Peterson said he was told the president’s staff noticed the error after he vetoed it.

Title III of the farm bill, dealing with trade and foreign aid provisions, was omitted as a result.

Peterson said that they had asked the Parliamentarians if they could simply re-enroll the bill and send it to the president, but the Parliamentarians objected.

“After all I’ve been through, I thought, ‘What can happen today?’” Peterson said.

Peterson predicted that the provision on its own would still have enough support to override a veto, although he held out hope that Bush might sign it.