House to Take Up Extension of Agriculture Bill, Drought Aid

The U.S. House next week will take up a one-year extension of most of an agriculture-policy law that expires in September along with a provision that would help livestock producers hurt by a record drought, according to a posting yesterday on the Rules Committee website.

The bill would allow growers of major crops such as corn and soybeans to continue to receive so-called direct payments, which are allotted regardless of commodity prices and which the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee have voted to eliminate. It would also allow lawmakers to provide emergency relief to cattle, pig and poultry producers who’ve suffered losses, without having to make an election-year vote on legislation that calls for deep cuts in food-stamp funding.

Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, said he’s against any extension of the farm-policy law unless he’s assured it will lead to a conference with the Senate on the five-year bill that chamber approved in June.

“Congress should not be playing politics with the rural economy,” Peterson said yesterday in a statement. “Farmers need the certainty of a five-year farm bill.” His comments echoed those made a day earlier by Debbie Stabenow, the Michigan Democrat who heads the Senate Agriculture Committee.

While the House Agriculture Committee approved its version of the bill July 12, Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, never scheduled a vote on the measure.

Lucas’s Support

Still, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican, said he supports an extension.

“It is critical that we provide certainty to our producers and address the devastating drought conditions that are affecting most of the country,” Lucas said yesterday in a statement.

Lawmakers begin a monthlong recess Aug. 6 and don’t return to Washington until Sept. 10.

The current law authorizing spending for U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, including nutrition and conservation initiatives as well as subsidies, expires Sept. 30. While the legislation has provisions that help farmers insure major crops, a measure that would have provided disaster aid for ranchers expired last September.

Spending Cuts

The draft bill posted yesterday would cost $621 million, if scored over a 10-year period, while saving $399 million if compared with current federal policies, according to a statement from the House Agriculture Committee. The measure would cap some funding for conservation programs and provide a slight reduction in the direct-payment subsidies.

The farm bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee would have cut Agriculture Department spending by $35.1 billion over a 10-year period, with almost half of the savings coming from food aid to needy families. The Senate’s legislation called for reductions of $23.6 billion over a decade, with about $4 billion coming from food stamps.

The agriculture-policy bill has become a prime target for congressional budget cutters because of near record farm profits and the highest-ever expenditure on food stamps.

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