Senate Denies Ag Disaster Aid

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Tuesday the U.S. Senate failed to muster enough support for a $4.8 billion agricultural disaster assistance package for the 2005 and 2006 production years. In a procedural move, Sen. Kent Conrad's, D-N.D., amendment to increase the current $4 billion amount in the Agriculture Appropriations bill fell three votes short of the 60 needed to over-ride the budget point of order.  

Monday President Bush renewed his threat to veto the bill if the disaster aid was included. Advocates vowed to try again next year, when Democrats control Congress and lawmakers try to wrap up work on bills to fund most of the federal government. An Associated Press story states that Conrad is confident the three vote margin can be overcome in the next Congress. Conrad reported that incoming Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada supports the proposal, in addition to several senators who were absent Tuesday.

Generally speaking, the Agriculture Appropriations bill funds USDA for the 2007 Fiscal Year. Disaster aid for ag was already included when the Appropriations Committee sent the bill to the Senate for consideration.  

Any bills not completed and signed into law would be included in the Continuing Resolution (a "C - R•bCrLf) that would provide pre-approved funding only for the operations of those federal agencies into early next year — but not any additional initiatives, such as ag disaster funding. 

The main contention point in the aid denial was the decision to support Gulf farmers after Hurricane Katrina, but denying Midwest farmers the same aid.

A statement from Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., explains "it is incomprehensible that Congress has approved disaster assistance to Gulf state farmers, while Midwest farmers continue to get the cold shoulder."

"It is unfortunate that Congress has chosen to assist rural residents who were victims of hurricanes, while ignoring victims of other natural disasters such as drought and flooding. Regardless of what you call it, a disaster is a disaster," adds National Farmers Union President Tom Buis.

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