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Stumble on Hill complicates an override of farm-bill veto

Leaders scramble after it was discovered that the bill sent to Bush was missing 34 pages.

WASHINGTON - The House yesterday overwhelmingly rejected President Bush's veto of a $290 billion farm bill, but what should have been a stinging defeat for Bush became an embarrassment for Democrats.

Only hours before the House's 316-108 vote, Bush had vetoed the five-year measure, saying it was too expensive and gave too much money to wealthy farmers when farm incomes are high. The Senate then was expected to follow suit quickly.

Action stalled, however, after the discovery that Congress had omitted a 34-page section of the bill when lawmakers sent the massive measure to the White House. That means Bush vetoed a different bill from the one Congress passed, leaving leaders scrambling to figure out whether it could become law.

Democrats hoped to pass the entire bill, again, today under expedited rules usually reserved for unopposed legislation. The correct version would then be sent to Bush for another expected veto.

Lawmakers also probably will have to pass an extension of current farm law, which expires tomorrow.

The White House, almost gleefully, seized on the fumble and said the mix-up could give Congress time to fix the "bloated" bill.

"We haven't found a precedent for a congressional blunder of this magnitude," said Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman. "It looks like it may be back to square one for them."

Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No. 2 Republican and one of 100 GOP lawmakers who broke with Bush in voting to override the veto, said: "In all likelihood, you have to redo this process. I'd like to see a farm bill passed that no judge can say is not the farm bill."

The legislation includes election-year subsidies for farmers and food stamps for the poor - spending that lawmakers could promote when they return to their districts over Memorial Day weekend.

The veto was the 10th of Bush's presidency. Congress so far has overridden him once, on a water-projects bill.

About two-thirds of the farm bill would pay for nutrition programs such as food stamps; $40 billion is for farm subsidies; and an additional $30 billion would go to farmers to idle their land and to other environmental programs.