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Updated: 9:17 p.m.
Lawmakers, especially from rural districts and states, don’t want to go home empty-handed to their drought-plagued constituents at week’s end without making some effort to approve agriculture disaster aid.
But as of Wednesday, they were on track to do just that, given that Senate Democrats are reluctant to pass the pending $383 million House disaster bill that still needs to garner enough votes Thursday to even be sent to the Senate. Late Wednesday evening, the House Rules Committee announced it would pull the bill from the suspension calendar, a sure sign leaders did not have the two-thirds vote necessary to approve the measure that way. And if Congress fails to send any sort of legislation to the president’s desk, with about 80 percent of the country suffering from an historic drought, then it will be a blame-game free-for-all when Members return home for the month.
“In the aggregate, yes, we’ll get beat to death going home without having done something, but most of these guys on this floor don’t represent rural districts, and they’re not going to face anybody affected by this,” said Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), a member of the Agriculture Committee.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who met with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the Capitol on Wednesday, has said he will consider a stand-alone drought relief package only if it is exactly like the provisions included in the bipartisan farm bill the Senate approved in June.
The House proposal, however, only addresses livestock disaster and tree assistance programs — two of the most pressing issues in current drought conditions. The Senate’s five-year extension — which was supported by 16 GOP Senators — is broader and includes measures to help fruit growers affected by frost and freezes, sweeping improvements to crop insurance and permanent funding for livestock disaster programs.
The House plan would offset the increased spending by cutting conservation programs dear to Democrats. A litany of farm groups and some Democrats released a joint statement Wednesday against the bill, while expressing support for both emergency aid to farmers and a long-term bill.