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New Congress is more likely to support an ag disaster bill

Bipartisan backers of a disaster aid amendment that failed to gain enough votes in the Senate Tuesday say help could be on the way when the 110th Congress starts to work next January.

That was a conclusion drawn by Senator Kent Conrad, the North Dakota Democrat who asked for an amendment to an ag spending bill that would have added $4.9 billion in agricultural disaster aid.

The 57 Senators who voted for it fell three votes short of the 60 needed under Senate rules.

But Conrad said the amendment has support of three senators who were absent (Kansas Republican Sam Brownback and Democrats Joseph Biden of Delaware and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut).

"We believe that either later this week or in the new Congress, we will prevail," he said.

The New Congress is a more likely bet. The current Lame Duck session is expected to end this week with Congress not passing nine of 11 annual appropriations bills. It will leave most federal agencies operating on a continuing resolution that will keep spending at last year’s levels into the new year. (The federal fiscal year started last October 1).

Senator Tim Johnson, D-S.D., agrees with Conrad that the new Congress will likely have the votes to pass disaster legislation early next year. But he's not certain that it will have the votes to override a possible veto by President George W. Bush.

"I don't think we can be confident of that," he told Agriculture Online. "I think the likelihood of getting disaster relief rests very largely on the position President Bush will take in the 110th Congress."

So far, Bush has threatened a veto, with Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns objecting to the possibility that farmers who didn't need assistance would be getting USDA payments. Conrad said Tuesday that the latest disaster aid amendment would provide aid only if a producer has a loss of at least 35%.

Johnson said that relief from drought and other natural disasters in 2005 and 2006 was long overdue.

"Farmers and ranchers are failing as we speak. Herds have already been liquidated," he said.

Senator Mike Enzi, a Wyoming Republican who backs the drought aid, said in a statement released after Tuesday's vote that he, too, hopes enough votes "can be gained from senators who were absent to pass the drought aid in the future.

"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.

Bipartisan backers of a disaster aid amendment that failed to gain enough votes in the Senate Tuesday say help could be on the way when the 110th Congress starts to work next January.

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