U.S. House Republican leaders sought support for legislation to provide emergency drought relief to livestock producers as Democrats pressed for a floor vote on a full five-year extension of government farm programs set to expire in September.
House Speaker John Boehner voiced a determination to provide such assistance without specifying whether it would take the form of a stand-alone measure or a one-year extension of current farm programs. Democrats oppose both approaches.
Boehner, an Ohio Republican, today told reporters the House is working on an “appropriate path forward” that would help ranchers, who aren’t covered by government insurance programs as are growers of major crops such as corn and soybeans. He didn’t say whether the legislation would be included in a new farm bill or an extension of current law.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today said Congress should “act as quickly as possible” on the agriculture policy bill with a provision for disaster aid for livestock producers. Without the relief, ``these livestock producers have no other resource than to liquidate at a time when they'll get substantially less for their cattle or their pork.’’
A program that would have provided emergency assistance to livestock producers expired Sept. 30, 2011. Republicans are crafting a plan that would transfer as much as $300 million from other farm programs to help ranchers, Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, Republican of Oklahoma, said yesterday.
Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the top Democrat on that committee, said Boehner is pressuring Lucas to do a one-year extension of the current farm law, which was passed in 2008 and authorized spending for U.S. Department of Agriculture programs for five years. He would rather see Congress approve the bill the agriculture panel passed July 12.
Peterson said an extension would allow opponents of sugar and dairy subsidy programs included in the measure to drum up additional support, with the ‘‘the potential of killing’’ the bill.
Boehner has said no decision has been made on whether to bring the measure to a floor vote.
Lucas said Republican lawmakers don’t have a plan for the farm bill. ‘‘If a final decision has been made, it hasn’t been shared with me,” said Lucas, who added that he didn’t think there are enough votes in the House to pass a full farm bill or an extension.
Peterson said Republican leaders are “panicking” over finding a way to provide drought relief because they don’t have support for a legislative vehicle to do that. He said they are now searching for a “Plan B.”
Lawmakers plan to leave Washington at the end of next week for their monthlong August recess. Lucas yesterday said he is trying to draft legislation in time for a House vote next week because “leadership would like to respond to the needs out there before going home.”
The Democratic-controlled Senate passed a bipartisan farm bill that would have to be reconciled with the House version. Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said this week she doesn’t plan to advance drought emergency legislation because such relief is in the Senate farm bill.
“At this point we want to get the farm bill done; that’s what the House needs to do,” Stabenow said.