Drought Assistance for Livestock Producers Passed by U.S. House

The U.S. House voted to extend federal aid to ranchers who have lost cattle and sheep because of the drought and other natural disasters, though the Senate may not take up the measure for at least a month.

The House voted 223-197 yesterday to approve the $383 million drought-aid bill, which would reimburse ranchers for 75 percent of the value of animals killed by the weather. It would also extend aid for weather-related losses for grazing lands, orchards, honey bees and farm-raised fish. The relief expired in 2011, and the bill would make it retroactive to Oct. 1, the start of the current fiscal year.

“There is a disaster happening out there,” Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican, said before the vote. “Let’s give the tools to our ranchers who are most exposed.”

The Senate probably won’t take up the bill until at least Sept. 10, when Congress returns from a monthlong recess that starts after this week, Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow told reporters. Instead, lawmakers would use the drought bill as a vehicle to work, probably informally, with the House to negotiate a multiyear farm bill.

The current law, which authorizes all Department of Agriculture programs, was passed in 2008 and expires Sept. 30. The Senate passed its version of a replacement in June. The bill would cut $23.6 billion in spending over a decade.

Stabenow, a Democrat, said the House disaster-aid bill is inadequate. She said fruit producers in 72 counties out of 83 in her home state of Michigan need help and many won’t benefit from the House measure.

“So I’m not passing a bill that only has some help for some producers,” Stabenow said.

Five-Year Bill

The House Agriculture Committee on July 12 approved a five-year bill that would have extended drought aid, reduced or eliminated some crop subsidies, and expanded insurance programs. It also would cut $35.1 billion from the deficit when scored over a decade. Democrats said it cut too much from food aid to the poor, while from some Republicans said the cuts weren’t deep enough. Speaker John Boehner never scheduled a House vote.

“The House is pretty well divided,” Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters yesterday. “You’ve got the left concerned about reductions in the food-stamp program, you’ve got the right who don’t think the cuts go far enough.”

“Frankly I haven’t seen 218 votes in the middle to pass a farm bill,” Boehner said. The House has 435 members.

In yesterday’s vote, 35 Democrats joined most Republicans in backing the bill, while 46 Republicans voted against it.

Drought Aid

Republicans late last week introduced a one-year extension of most farm policy, tied to drought aid through September 2013. That was scuttled after opposition from farm groups, and replaced by a one-year drought-aid bill. That brought opposition from some Democrats because the measure is financed through cuts to conservation programs.

It’s a “sad substitute for what is really needed -- long-term farm policy,” said Representative Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee. Peterson, from Minnesota, said he would vote for the drought-aid bill as a good-faith effort toward negotiations on a five-year farm bill, which he said will continue over the August recess.

The bill is H.R. 6233.

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