by Philip Brasher, CQ Roll Call Staff
Republicans pushed a $383 million package of disaster assistance (HR 6233) through the House shortly before lawmakers were to break for the August recess today. The aid bill, which the House passed 223-197, will give lawmakers from drought-stricken areas something to talk about when pressed by constituents about the issue.
But Senate Democrats refused take up the measure before the recess. Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., is pressing for completion of a new five-year farm bill and said the aid package was inadequate. “I’m not passing a bill that only covers some help for some producers,” she said.
The assistance in the House bill is primarily aimed at cattle producers, who could receive compensation for feed costs and dead livestock. Orchards also could qualify for assistance but other fruit and vegetable growers would be left out.
House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said the aid bill was necessary because the 2008 farm bill had set up disaster assistance programs to expire a year ahead of the rest of the bill as a cost-saving measure.”We’re going to help a group of producers who when the old farm bill passed thought they had something they could depend on, but because of budget issues the fifth year was not funded,” Lucas said. “We need to help them by fulfilling our commitment that what we said would be there would be there.”
Democrats criticized Republicans for cutting conservation spending to fund the disaster aid and said GOP leaders should have brought a five-year farm bill to the floor instead.
The Agriculture Committee approved a new farm bill (HR 6083) in July, but leaders made no move to bring it to the floor. Speaker John Boehner told reporters Thursday that “the House is pretty well divided” because of proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. “Frankly, I haven’t seen 218 votes in the middle to pass the farm bill,” Boehner said.
The drought measure — which Boehner called “responsible” — was originally part of a one-year farm program extension (HR 6228) that GOP leaders pulled this week when they couldn’t get the votes.