Feb. 10, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

GOP Gambles on Drought Assistance Bill

The current farm legislation is set to expire at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, and the drought shows no sign of ending soon. Moreover, with the elections fewer than 100 days away, aides in both chambers said that the stalled farm bill could play an increased role in states with large agricultural influences and those plagued by drought. This could be especially true during the August recess, when lawmakers will spend ample time at constituent events, including town halls, offices hours and coffees.

For example, in Montana — home to one of the nation’s closest Senate races — Democratic incumbent Jon Tester is referred to as “Montana farmer Jon Tester” in every press release issued by his campaign. Tester is running against current Rep. Denny Rehberg (R).

The Tester campaign today released a statement on the bills approved by the Senate and stuck in the House, chief among them the farm authorization bill.

“Amid a record drought crisis, Tester earlier this year supported a responsible, bipartisan five-year Farm Bill to provide certainty for Montana’s farmers and ranchers,” the press release read. “Today there’s word that Rehberg won’t even pass a one-year extension of the current farm bill. Rehberg’s failure to pass a farm bill will leave many Montana farmers and ranchers with uncertainty and without a safety net during one of the driest summers on record.”

One key factor working in favor of the disaster-aid-only bill, if the language is acceptable to the Senate, is that Democrats may not lose much leverage in their fight to pass the overall farm bill. The larger package is still a deficit-reducer, and many have speculated that it could be used in a lame-duck session to offset other must-pass measures.

As word spread that the House would attempt to pass the disaster bill, Senate Republicans also expressed an eagerness to take up the measure and approve it before next week.

“It strikes most of us that some kind of drought assistance clearing the Congress and getting to the president this week would be a good idea, given the severity of conditions all across the central part of the country,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.

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