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Mixed views of disaster bill

DANIEL LOOKER 07/31/2012 @ 11:00pm Business Editor

Thursday, the House is expected to vote on a bill that would find funds for livestock disaster programs that expired last year. The effort is all that remains of a one-year farm bill extension that was introduced last week and withdrawn by House leaders Tuesday.

Already, the drought aid effort is getting a mixed response in the ag community and on Capitol Hill.

South Dakota's two U.S. Senators, Tim Johnson, a Democrat, and John Thune, a Republican, both voted for a 2012 farm bill when it was debated on the Senate floor in June. And Thune, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, played a role in writing the bill, offering a sod-saver provision that would cut crop insurance premiums on grasslands converted to crops.

Even though both say they still want a farm bill passed this year, and both want help for their state's livestock farmers hit by drought, their reaction to a House bill for disaster relief was shaded by subtle, more partisan differences Wednesday.

"The House needs to stop dithering and pass a good farm bill," Johnson told reporters in a conference call Wednesday.

"Both Senator Thune and I strongly support the Senate farm bill and voted for it," Johnson said. He called the House's latest effort "a fig leaf"  and said he's not certain whether it will pass. The House Rules Committee is requiring a two-thirds majority for passage.

"My own preference is clearly to take up the Senate farm bill," Johnson said. Like the farm bill extension that House leaders withdrew, the smaller disaster bill pays for help for livestock producers "by taking a meat ax approach to cutting conservation programs," he added.

When asked if the Senate would support the House's smaller disaster bill if it does pass, Johnson said, "I don't know. The Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Deb Stabenow, is pushing for full authorization of the farm bill and I think the Senate Democrats will go along with the chairman."

Thune was supportive of the disaster bill, which he says would provide $380 million in drought relief.  

"I hope they can get that through the House and if they do, hopefully we'll be able to act on it in the Senate," Thune said.

Thune said that it would be possible for the Senate to vote on it late Thursday before heading home for the August recess. "It can always be done. Where there's a will there's a way," he said.

But Thune also still supports getting a farm bill passed this year.

"I'm still hopeful that can happen. Clearly now it's going to be a September event than something we could address this week," he said.  The House has only eight legislative days left on its calendar in September after returning from its five-week recess.   

Meanwhile, major farm groups fired off a letter to the members of the House on Wednesday, urging action on a farm bill this year. It said, in part:

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