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Drought Throws Off GOP Focus on Tax Cuts

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Delbert Craig shows Karis Gutter of the Agriculture Department and other visitors the drought damage to his pasture Thursday near Goreville, Ill. Seventy percent of the state is classified as experiencing some level of drought.

Even if House leaders ultimately choose to decouple the aid from a farm bill, passing disaster aid has been a struggle this Congress. When Joplin, Mo., was leveled by tornadoes and Hurricane Irene slammed the East Coast last year, Republicans insisted any aid be offset with spending cuts elsewhere.

The same fight could rear its head this time around, as House leaders plan to pay for the measure by cutting direct farm payments and conservation spending.

“There are a lot of potential concerns depending on how they write the bill and what the end goal really is,” the conservative aide said. “To even be considered, it should reduce spending elsewhere to offset the cost. No gimmicks.”

The extremely arid conditions have devastated much of the country, but in particular those who raise livestock. Corn and soybean producers have been somewhat shielded from the drought because of crop insurance. Livestock farmers are not so lucky; their federal disaster relief program expired last year.

A vote on a short-term extension also gives Senate Democrats another opportunity to point out that the House has not moved on the farm bill while the Senate has.

“Our position is that there’s no good reason for the House not to take up and pass the Senate’s bipartisan farm bill. The House should not let petty politics get in the way of passing this important, bipartisan bill,” said Adam Jentleson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell seems keen to address disaster aid in his home state of Kentucky. The Republican leader called Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Friday to discuss aid options.

“Kentucky farmers and livestock operators are very concerned they don’t have the tools readily available to enable them to manage the risk caused by the drought,” McConnell told him, according to a release. The Senator also urged Vilsack to “look at all legal authorities and budgetary options to assist Kentucky farmers.”

Senate Agriculture ranking member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), whose state has been hard-hit by the drought, said Thursday that his top priority is getting the drought relief done regardless of whether that has any connection to the farm bill.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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