Declaring that "someone in Washington must be responsible," President Reagan vetoed the emergency farm credit relief bill Wednesday and vowed to keep vetoing legislation "again and again until spending is brought under control."
Democratic sponsors of the bill, which won final passage by the House only Tuesday, immediately threw in the political towel and announced that they would not attempt to override the President's veto. Reagan's ability to sustain the veto was "a foregone conclusion," House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) acknowledged.
Reagan has vetoed 40 bills during his presidency, and all but four vetoes have been sustained.
A 'Budget Buster'
The President previously had threatened to veto the farm bill--denouncing it as "a budget buster"--and he carried out the threat in the Oval Office with great fanfare and a blistering attack on Congress, always one of his favorite political targets.
White House aides encouraged heavy photo coverage and arranged for the ceremony to be carried live by the major television networks. However, only the Cable News Network televised the event live.
In the hours leading up to the action, a few hundred farmers marched to the White House and rallied across the street, guarded by several policemen on horseback. When six congressmen and some of the farmers tried to deliver the actual bill to be vetoed to the main White House gate, they were shunted aside to a mail room a block away. In addition, their requests to see the President were rejected.
"If he has time for (football star) Doug Flutie, if he has time for every movie star from Hollywood, you'd think he'd have time for six congressmen and representatives of American family farms," Rep. Timothy J. Penny (D-Minn.), one of the farm bill sponsors, complained.
The Democratic-sponsored bill, passed with the help of 30 Republicans in the House and 16 Republicans in the Senate, would have provided $1.85 billion in loan guarantees for U.S. farmers, $100 million to help rural banks lower interest rates on troubled loans and $7 billion to make loans at planting time that usually are not made until harvest. Those farm amendments were attached to a $175-million African famine relief measure.
"I certainly don't think that tying this to a bill for food aid for the starving people of Africa was exactly the way to go," Reagan said. "As a matter of fact, it emphasizes the need for a line-item veto." With line-item veto authority, which most governors, including California's, possess, a chief executive can veto certain elements of a bill without killing the whole measure.
No 'Blank Check'
"I've pleaded and warned repeatedly," Reagan said in remarks intended for a national television audience, "that just as your families don't have a blank check for whatever your needs may be, neither can the government--and that means the taxpayer--bail out every farmer hopelessly in debt or every bank which made imprudent or speculative loans and bet on higher inflation."
Reagan said that his Administration already is providing nearly $4.5 billion in farm credits this year. He contended that only 4% of the nation's farmers "have any liquidity problems." Congressional experts have estimated that 5% of the nation's farmers are likely to go bankrupt this year.
"I (had) asked for help," Reagan said. "I asked Congress, which just days ago was bemoaning the size of deficits, to demonstrate courage, hold the line and match rhetoric with deeds. Congress failed. In the first major bill since convening in January, a majority proved itself incapable of resisting the very tax-and-spend philosophy that brought America to its knees and wrecked our economy.
'Must Be Responsible'
"The bottom line," he added, "is that someone in Washington must be responsible. Someone must be willing to stand up for those who pay America's bills. And someone must stand up to those who say: 'Here's the key, here's the Treasury, just take as many of those hard-earned tax dollars as you want . . . .
"I hope that Congress will get the message and work with me to reduce spending in a responsible way that does not threaten our national security. If it doesn't, then I'll do what must be done. I will veto again and again until spending is brought under control."
O'Neill told reporters: "The President needs to know that politics is the art of compromise . . . . For an Administration that has added a trillion dollars to the national debt, this (farm bill) was a reasonable price for ensuring the survival of an American way of life."