A second chance for Republicans to act rather than talk

Congress sent an incomplete version of the farm bill to the White House yesterday, rendering the veto override vote taken in the House meaningless. Democrats in both chambers will now need to shepherd the bill back through votes in order to get an official veto that they can override — which means they have to start at square one. While that reflects poorly on the Democrats, the Republicans hardly have any reason to crow:

The House easily overrode President Bush’s veto of a $307 billion farm bill last night in what appeared to be the most significant legislative rebuff of Bush’s presidency. But a legislative glitch is likely to force embarrassed Democratic leaders to pass the bill all over again today — and prompt a second showdown with Bush next month.

The problem came when a House clerk mistakenly dropped a whole section dealing with trade policy from the 673-page bill before it was sent to the White House. Republican leaders argued last night that the House had overriden [sic] a veto on legislation that had never actually passed the House and Senate. For the sake of legislative integrity, Democratic aides said, Congress is likely to start the whole process again.

Republican leadership aides last night called it a “monumental Democrat screw-up,” but it was Republican disarray that was on display for much of the evening. The bill pitted Republican leader against Republican leader as they argued publicly over another lapse in their commitment to fiscal discipline. As with the first veto override of the Bush presidency, which saved the Water Resources Development Act last year, lawmakers of both parties stepped in to save a law that promised to shower billions of dollars on key constituents and home-district programs.

“The vote on the farm bill has definitely been a challenge, if you look at it as regaining our fiscal brand,” said Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.), a member of the GOP leadership.

The foul-up gives Republicans in the House and Senate a second chance. Their first efforts on the farm bill flew in the face of all the high-minded rhetoric regarding fiscal discipline and reform emanating from luminaries such as Tom Cole and John Boehner since the last special-election loss in Mississippi. The GOP wants to carry the mantle of clean government and small government, but majorities of Republicans in both chambers voted for a farm bill laden with pork projects, corporate welfare, and farm subsidies that make no sense in a market where food prices have risen significantly.

Memo to the GOP: we don’t believe your rhetoric any longer. Oh, conservatives still want an end to corruption, a reduction in the size and scope of the federal government, and spending discipline to go with lower taxes. We just don’t believe that many elected Republicans want those goals, nor do we think that current Republican leadership has any real commitment to them, either.

Want to dazzle us? Want to start rebuilding your credibility? Then stop talking and start taking action. When this farm bill comes back through Congress, oppose its fiscal foolishness. You have an opportunity to demonstrate through action instead of empty rhetoric that you understand the lesson of 2006, and that you will start acting on conservative principles rather than on political expediency. If you act on the latter, you will surely see an even starker lesson in 2008.