"I do not support it. I would veto it," he said. "I would do that because I believe that the subsidies are unnecessary."
McCain was in the heart of farm country, a place where subsidies for corn and ethanol fuel are wildly popular.
His long-held position against subsidies has cost him in Iowa, the state that traditionally begins the presidential nominating process and is a potential swing state in the fall. Yet the Arizona senator didn't hesitate to bring up the issue.
"I just thought I'd start out with that non-controversial statement," he said as he began the town hall-style meeting.
Congress, struggling to finish a farm bill that can survive a threatened veto, passed another extension and sent it to President Bush, who, like McCain, says it is bloated with subsidies for wealthy farmers. The nearly $300 billion bill would pay for farm and nutrition programs for the next five years.
Negotiators on the bill agreed to cut an ethanol tax credit previously considered off-limits because of its popularity in Iowa. And they cut $1 billion in support for blending ethanol, bringing the per-gallon credit from 51 cents to 45 cents.
McCain did take a break from the straight talking for a little pandering.
"The farmer in the state of Iowa in the United States of America is the most productive, the most efficient and the best," he said. "And I will open every market in the world to your products, and I will sell them, and I can compete."