July 24, 2012
Boehner Says House Leaders May Act Soon on Drought Aid
Published in C.Q.
In a shift by House Republican leaders, Speaker John A. Boehner said Tuesday they are looking at quickly addressing the needs of drought-stricken farmers and ranchers.
He stopped short of saying that it meant the farm bill (HR 6083) would come to the floor. Boehner told reporters he was working with the House Agriculture Committee on the disaster issue.
“We understand the emergency that exists in rural America. And we will address it as soon as possible,” Boehner said.
In its weekly crop progress report, the Agriculture Department on Monday reported that 45 percent of the U.S. corn crop and 55 percent of the pasture and rangeland are in poor or very poor condition.
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy on Monday also had signaled an openness to working on drought aid.
Droughts “happen at different times, so we will utilize whatever is already in the process that you can, from the insurance process and others,” McCarthy, R-Calif., said. “But if there is something, because the drought is greater today, that we have to take up in the process, we will try to deal with that even by itself if need be.”
Boehner, R-Ohio, said last week that crop insurance should be sufficient to cover farmers’ needs this year, but those policies do not cover losses to livestock producers, and a provision in the USDA’s fiscal 2012 appropriations (PL 112-55) bars the agency from providing aid through a program that the department has used in the past to compensate livestock operations for weather-related losses.
The House farm bill, which the Agriculture Committee approved July 11, and the Senate-passed version (S 3240) include disaster assistance programs that would be retroactive to this year. But in case that legislation is stalled, separate bills have been introduced in the Senate (S 3384) and the House (HR 6167) to revive the disaster aid programs that expired last year.
Livestock producers are being hurt by the loss of grass for grazing as well as by higher prices for hay and for grain for feed.
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said she would continue to pressure the House to bring the farm bill to the floor.
“We need a farm bill,” she said, rejecting the idea of a stand-alone drought aid measure.
But McCarthy suggested Monday that there will be no floor votes on the House farm bill until later in the year, saying leaders still have work to do to round up enough votes.
“You have to educate the members, and you have to be able to present it. It is our intention to get the farm bill done,” he told reporters. Pressed to give a time frame for acting on the bill, McCarthy said, “Get it done before we are out of the year.”
Illustrating the problems House leaders face in moving the farm bill, a coalition of 12 conservative groups — including Heritage Action for America and Taxpayers for Common Sense — sent a letter Tuesday to Boehner and his team saying that the current drought is no reason to bring the Agriculture Committee’s measure to the floor for a vote.
“The challenging, yet predictable, drought conditions across much of the country must not be misused to expand an overly generous federal role in agriculture,” the letter said.
One significant issue with the bill lies in its reauthorization of the nation’s largest food aid program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The House bill would cut costs for that program by $16.1 billion over 10 years, which some Republicans say is not enough and Democrats say is unacceptably high.