Stephanie Condon, CBS News
President Obama on Friday signed a five-year farm bill into law, marking the hard-fought legislative accomplishment with eight Democratic members of Congress by his side.
Before signing the bill before a crowd of about 500 at Michigan State University, Mr. Obama said the bill "doesn't include everything I'd like to see," but is "a good sign" for bipartisan progress in Congress. The number of lawmakers not present for the signing, however, suggests the bill's success hasn't built much bipartisan good will.About 50 lawmakers, including many Republicans, were invited to attend the bill signing, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Friday. No Republicans accepted the invitation. The only Democrats in attendance were Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Carl Levin of Michigan, Amy Klobuchar of Michigan, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Reps. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, Dan Kildee of Michigan, Gary Peters of Michigan and Filemon Vela of Texas.
After years of debate in Congress over the important bill, which funds assistance for farmers and food assistance programs, the bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 68 to 32 earlier in the week. The compromises made to get it through Congress, however, left lawmakers from both parties grumbling. A number of Democrats voted against the legislation because it cuts funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program by about $800 million a year.
"This bill will result in less food on the table for children, seniors and veterans who deserve better from this Congress, while corporations continue to receive guaranteed federal handouts," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said, explaining her vote against the bill.
Republicans against the bill said it doesn't do enough to trim government spending. "It's mind-boggling, the sum of money that's spent on farm subsidies, duplicative nutrition and development assistance programs, and special interest pet projects," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said earlier this week.
Asked whether Mr. Obama was disappointed with the low turnout for Friday's bill signing, Carney said, "Look, this was a bipartisan effort and everyone involved in it deserves credit. The president is happy to share credit for that. The members that are on board today were deeply involved in helping this come about and the president is very glad to have them join him."
The president Friday touted all the positive aspects of the bill, comparing it to a Swiss Army Knife. insisting it is "going to make a big difference in communities all across this country."
He noted that most SNAP recipients are children, elderly Americans, or people with disabilities. The rest, he said, are "hard working Americans who just need a little help feeding their families" while looking for work.
"They're not looking for a handout, they're looking for a hand up," he said.