Congress recesses with no drought aid
The U.S. Senate will not take up a $383 million drought assistance package approved earlier Thursday by House lawmakers, meaning Congress will leave Washington for a five-week recess without approving support for farmers suffering from the worst drought in decades.
The House approved the package in a 223 to 197 vote Thursday afternoon to help livestock producers who are struggling to feed their herds.
But Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said on the Senate floor that the House bill doesn't accomplish enough, and that she wouldn't support the legislation. Democratic leadership aides confirmed that the Senate wouldn't take up the House bill before adjourning for the August recess.
Ms. Stabenow said the Senate had passed a five-year reauthorization of the farm bill that includes more comprehensive drought assistance programs as well as a range of other measures. She expressed disappointment that the House had opted for a narrower bill, and said she hoped to work with her counterparts in the House to reach an agreement on a wider multi-year bill in September.
The House drought relief bill would have revived several programs that expired about a year ago which pay ranchers when they lose pastureland or animals due to drought. When severe heat and a lack of rain scorches the land that ranchers use to graze cattle, sheep, goats and other animals or produce hay, they are often forced to look for other, more expensive, sources of feed or slaughter the animals early.
Often livestock die on the farm from severe drought, and the bill passed Thursday by the House would also have partially compensated ranchers for those losses. If cattle, chickens, turkeys, pigs or sheep die during a drought like the one gripping most of the U.S. now, the government would have reimbursed owners for 75% of the animal's market value.
House Republican and Democratic lawmakers said before the vote that they believe the drought assistance is desperately needed by livestock producers who need help feeding their animals during the most widespread drought in 25 years.
Ms. Stabenow said she agreed with this sentiment but that the House bill wouldn't have done enough to help out stricken farm owners.
"Let's not do half a disaster assistance bill, let's not do something short term that's less what producers across the country want us to do," she said.
Most farm losses from the drought are covered by crop insurance, but livestock producers are not.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) said completing a full five-year farm bill remains important to him, but the drought legislation is a priority.
"Ranchers are in dire need," Mr. Lucas said. "We have a drought...and I'm here to provide a solution."
But Rep. Jared Polis (D., Colo.) said he opposed the bill, calling it a "bovine bailout."
While the bill would have offered some help to pay for livestock that die, it doesn't help pay for the animals' feed. John Burkel, vice chairman of the National Turkey Federation and a Minnesota turkey producer, said this week he will cut back on production this year due to the skyrocketing prices for feed.