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Lawmakers, farm groups urge drought relief

Agriculture.com Staff 09/12/2006 @ 12:00pm

A group of 15 senators and representatives today urged Congress to pass drought relief before the November election, in spite of a threat by President George W. Bush to veto the bill.

At a press conference organized by National Farmers Union, American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of Wheat Growers, members of the Senate, especially those from hard-hit Great Plains and Western states, said the drought legislation is urgently needed.

"The bankers in my state have told me that if there is not relief, we will lose five to 10% of our producers," said Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who has introduced a drought at package that would assist producers who showed at least 35% crop losses from disasters in 2005 and 2006, including last year's hurricanes and drought in both years.

The legislation has the support of 34 farm groups and ag-related groups including the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and Independent Community Bankers of America.

This week, some 250 Farmers Union members have been lobbying their members of Congress for support of the bill. Similar legislation for last year's disasters got 72 votes in the Senate but efforts to include drought and disaster aid in House legislation have been voted down in House agriculture and appropriations committees.

Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the House agriculture committee, said that House Democrats will circulate a petition among members calling for a vote on the House floor. Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana, a Republican, said the problem in getting the legislation passed wasn't Bush's threat to veto it, but resistance to the bill in the House.

In an interview with Agriculture Online before the press conference, Peterson said he believes many Republican members of the House would like to vote on disaster relief before the election if allowed to by the leadership.

"I keep hoping that all of our political problems will cause them to have a change of heart," Peterson said.

The petition, which is likely to be circulated next week, requires just a simple majority to bring the issue to the floor of the House, said Rep. Stephanie Herseth, a Democrat from South Dakota.

Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns spoke to Farmers Union members gathered at USDA Monday. He outlined several administration objections to the bill, including the fact that farmers who don't raise program crops would not be aided by a provision that would raise direct payments by 30%. And they would go to producers in the Corn Belt who are likely to harvest a record corn crop, he said.

Tom Buis, president of National Farmers Union, said the 30% increase in direct payments is intended to help offset high fuel and production expenses that affected farms last year this year.

A group of 15 senators and representatives today urged Congress to pass drought relief before the November election, in spite of a threat by President George W. Bush to veto the bill.

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