Lawmakers finish farm bill as White House repeats opposition

Married couples with joint incomes of up to $1.5 million from their farm operation could still qualify for crop subsidies under a five-year, $300 billion farm bill compromise that would boost the Agriculture Department’s food and farm programs.

In some cases, farm couples with incomes totaling $2.5 million — assuming $1 million is from other, non-farm sources — could also qualify. That’s far too rich for the Bush administration, which renewed President Bush’s threat to veto the package as being too generous to wealthy farmers.

As details of the House-Senate compromise emerged Thursday, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer reiterated the veto threat. White House budget director Jim Nussle said the legislation still spends too much, relies on budget gimmicks and “doesn’t have hardly enough reform.”

“For those reasons, it would still be something that the administration would oppose,” Nussle said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a supporter of the bill, said she wished it had gone further in limiting payments to wealthy farmers. Pelosi said she would have “preferred more commodity reform,” referring to scaling back subsidies, but praised increases for nutrition programs, which make up two-thirds of the bill’s cost.

In recent days, congressional negotiators have come closer to the White House in terms of how much money would be paid to wealthy farmers, one of the biggest sticking points with the Bush administration.

The bill would eliminate some government payments to individuals who make more than $750,000 — or married farmers who make more than $1.5 million — in farm income annually.

Individuals who make more than $500,000, or couples who make more than $1 million jointly, in non-farm income would also be ineligible for subsidies.

Under current law, there is no income limit for farmers, and married couples who make less than one-fourth of their income from farming will not receive subsidies if their joint income exceeds $5 million.

The Bush administration originally proposed a new cap for those who make more than $200,000 in annual gross income, but has indicated it could accept a limit of $500,000. As of last week, negotiators were considering a $950,000 income cap on farm income.

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., said members were meeting Thursday to coordinate a House override strategy.