WASHINGTON – The House on Thursday extended disaster assistance to livestock producers reeling from rising feed prices caused by the drought that has scorched much of the nation.
The 223-197 vote to revive expired disaster relief programs for cattle and sheep producers was one of the Houses last actions before lawmakers left for their five-week August recess.
The Senate was not acting on the bill as it wrapped up its pre-recess work, and Democratic opponents characterized the legislation as cover for Republicans having to explain to rural constituents why they put off action on a comprehensive five-year farm policy bill.
While many crop farmers have insurance that provides some protection from the effects of the worst drought in a quarter-century, livestock producers are vulnerable to sharp increases in feed prices resulting from the dry weather. Some have had to liquidate stocks early because of the high maintenance costs.
The bill would restore four disaster aid programs, mostly for livestock producers and tree farmers, that expired last year.
The estimated cost, $383 million, would be paid for by shaving some $630 million from two conservation programs. The disaster programs would be restored for the 2012 budget year.
The top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, said that while he would vote for the disaster relief measure, this bill is a sad substitute for what is really needed: a long-term farm policy.
The Senate in June passed, on a bipartisan vote, a five-year farm bill that revises crop subsidy programs, eliminating direct payments to farmers even when they dont plant crops, and authorizes nearly $100 billion a year for subsidy, conservation and food stamp programs. The House Agriculture Committee last month approved similar legislation.
But the House GOP leadership has resisted bringing the bill to the floor, leery of a potential rebellion from conservative lawmakers against spending levels in the bill – particularly the nearly $80 billion a year for the food stamp program, which provides food aid to some 46 million people.
Some Democrats, in turn, oppose the House bill because it cuts 2 percent, or $1.6 billion a year, from the food stamp program.