Senate fails to pass ag appropriations
— Drought aid delayed until at least early 2007.
The U.S. Senate last Tuesday failed to pass the Fiscal Year 2007 Agriculture Appropriations budget. Instead, it passed a continuing resolution to fund agriculture needs at current levels until February 2007. The amendment, which required 60 votes to pass, failed by a vote of 57-37.
Several spending bills have been delayed as the current Republican Congress prepares to hand over the reins to Democrats in January of next year.
Several senators, particularly those from ag states, vowed to continue the fight to secure disaster aid for producers even after repeated threats from the White House to veto the bill if it passes without spending cuts in other agriculture programs.
The White House Office of Management and Budget last Tuesday issued a “Statement of Administration Policy” on the bill. “The Administration strongly opposes the Senate’s agricultural assistance proposal, the cost of which could exceed $4 billion,” the statement said. “If the president is presented with a bill that includes this agricultural assistance proposal, the president’s senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”
Several producer groups expressed their disapproval with the veto threat last week, including the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF).
“The American Farm Bureau is disappointed that the Senate failed to pass the disaster assistance bill for America’s farmers and ranchers. Agricultural producers in many parts of the country faced difficult times this year due to various natural disasters. Farm Bureau will continue to look for opportunities during the 110th Congress to pass this important legislation,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman.
Several senators said the measure will be a top priority when congressional members return to Washington, D.C., next month.
“Disaster assistance must be the top priority when Congress reconvenes in January,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-NE.
Sen. Mike Enzi, R-WY, said following the vote that farmers and ranchers are facing their own, new version of the Dust Bowl, which Americans endured during the early part of the last century.
“The effects of this years-long drought are not as sudden or dramatic as a hurricane or a raging flood, but there are people suffering and losing their livelihoods in the West and they should get the same consideration and assistance those affected by other types of disasters in other parts of the country have received,” Enzi said. “I agree our budget and appropriations system is in need of major overhaul, but that was not a choice with this amendment. The question was do you support drought aid for Westerners or not? I do. This is emergency funding for an agricultural emergency and it’s included in an ag appropriations bill, which is appropriate. This amendment increases the aid currently in the bill and helps cover more 2006 losses, which is most pertinent for Wyoming.”
The disaster assistance amendment, sponsored by Kent Conrad, D-ND, if passed, would cover crop losses in both the 2005 and 2006 production years for producers who lost at least 35 percent of a specific crop; provide funds to cattle producers in disaster counties for increased feed expenses; provide funds for the Emergency Conservation Program; and provide for additional personnel for the Farm Service Agency county offices to implement the disaster assistance program. — John Robinson, WLJ Editor