The House passed a $124 billion supplemental appropriations bill that includes $3.7 billion in disaster assistance for farmers who experienced crop and quality losses due to adverse weather conditions in 2005, 2006 or 2007.
Most of the supplemental bill's funding - $100 billion - will go to pay for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the measure faces an almost certain veto because of the disaster assistance and other add-ons and because it sets a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq by 2008.
House leaders said the additional funding is necessary and that much of it, including the disaster relief, should have been passed when Congress was controlled by Republicans. The Senate was scheduled to debate and vote on a version of the bill that imposes fewer restrictions on the Bush administration's conduct of the war.
“This disaster package will finally provide some relief to farmers and ranchers who have been waiting for Congress to act for more than a year,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who had asked for $4.3 billion in disaster aid. That was down from the $6.5 billion Democrats sought last year.
“I told farmers And ranchers across the country that a Democratic Congress would make this a high priority, and this vote demonstrates our commitment to making good on that promise.
A House ag committee press release said Peterson worked closely with House leadership to create a program that was “disciplined and fiscally restrained.” Farmers can apply for a payment for only one of the three years and, for the first time, only farmers with crop insurance are eligible.
The disaster relief program would operate as it has in previous years if it passes muster in the House and Senate and is signed by the president. The bill would cover losses that exceed 35 percent of a producer's normal yield at two-thirds of the average commodity price. It would also contain compensation for livestock losses.
A coalition of more than 30 farm organizations, including the National Cotton Council and American Farm Bureau Federation, has been urging Congress to pass disaster assistance to help farmers recover from the hurricanes, floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, blizzards and freezes that caused serious damage to the full gamut of U.S. crops.
Senate Democrats have passed several versions of disaster assistance bills since the fall of 2005 but ran up against White House opposition. USDA officials have been quoted as saying they thought the legislation was unnecessary given the farm program payments made to farmers under the 2002 farm bill.
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who now chairs the Senate Budget Committee, has pledged to renew his fight to enact such legislation in the current session of Congress.