CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
July 24, 2012 – 11:01 p.m.
House Might Yet Act on Drought Aid
By Philip Brasher and Richard E. Cohen, CQ Staff
In a shift by House GOP leaders, Speaker
Either way, it will be difficult for any action to take place before the summer recess starts Aug. 3. Logistical and political problems exist with both approaches, and leaders already had plans for the rest of this month.
“We have disaster problems that have to be addressed,” House Agriculture Chairman
In its weekly crop progress report, the Agriculture Department on July 23 reported that 45 percent of the U.S. corn crop and 55 percent of the pasture and rangeland are in poor or very poor condition.
“We understand the emergency that exists in rural America. And we will address it as soon as possible,” Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Tuesday, adding that he was working with the House Agriculture Committee on the issue.
This was a significant change of tone for Boehner, who last week said crop insurance should be sufficient to cover farmers’ needs this year. But those policies do not cover the losses of livestock producers, and a provision in the USDA’s fiscal 2012 appropriations (PL 112-55) bars the agency from providing aid through a program that the department has used in the past to compensate livestock operations for weather-related losses.
Livestock producers are being hurt by the loss of grass for grazing, as well as by higher prices for hay and grain for feed.
Pressing for Floor Debate
The House farm bill (
Moving a separate disaster aid bill, though, would reduce the leverage farm bill supporters need to eventually get their legislation to the president.
“I appreciate that the Speaker is now talking about drought assistance. I was concerned last week that he was saying crop insurance was enough to cover it, but really it is not enough,” Senate Agriculture Chairwoman
She said she would continue to pressure the House to bring the farm bill to the floor; she has been working with Lucas and his committee’s ranking Democrat,
“I am hopeful that we can persuade him that the best way to do that is to do the farm bill,” Stabenow said. “Chairman Lucas is pushing very hard. Congressman Peterson is pushing hard.”
House Might Yet Act on Drought Aid
The list of House members calling for a vote sooner rather than later continues to grow. Vermont Democrat
House leaders know, however, that the bill faces resistance from some of their most conservative members because of its more than $950 billion cost over 10 years, including a reauthorization of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. The measure would cut spending levels for that program by $16.1 billion over 10 years, which some Republicans say is not enough and Democrats say is unacceptably high.
House Majority Whip
“You have to educate the members, and you have to be able to present it. It is our intention to get the farm bill done,” he told reporters. Pressed to give a time frame for acting on the bill, McCarthy said, “Get it done before we are out of the year.”
Illustrating the problems House leaders face in moving the farm bill, a coalition of 12 conservative groups — including Heritage Action for America and Taxpayers for Common Sense — sent a letter Tuesday to Boehner and his team saying the drought is no reason to bring the Agriculture Committee’s measure to the floor for a vote.
“The challenging, yet predictable, drought conditions across much of the country must not be misused to expand an overly generous federal role in agriculture,” the letter said.
On the other hand, trying to pass a separate drought assistance bill before recess could be equally tricky. The bills already introduced would renew a program that expired last year, and none of them include offsets. Finding a pay-for that is politically palatable to all sides has proven to be difficult in other legislation this year.
If the House could manage to pass Lucas’ farm bill next week, it’s possible House and Senate Agriculture staff members could work through the recess to have a compromise measure ready to go when Congress returns Sept. 10.
But finding the time for such a vote would be difficult. House leaders had already planned to focus next week on extending the George W. Bush administration tax cuts (PL 107-16, PL 108-27), and the chamber is expected to take up a bill (
Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this story.