US House approves livestock disaster billNoem vows to keep pushing for farm bill
By: and The Associated Press, The Daily Republic
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 House’s last actions before lawmakers left for their five-week August recess.
Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said agriculture producers need the relief.
“We are looking at a disaster head-on,” Noem said, saying she has been working to pass livestock disaster programs “for months,” even before the drought set in.
Noem said she will still work to pass an entire farm bill and plans to try to persuade her fellow House members during Congress’ August recess.
“I’m not giving up on the farm bill,” Noem said. “To me, it’s a national security issue.”
Noem said she tells those in Congress that the nation should not rely on other countries for food. And she said a strong agriculture sector has given the nation’s economy a boost during the recession.
It was uncertain whether the Senate would act on the livestock disaster bill before it adjourns for the summer break, 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.
While there was little dispute over the difficult straits of the livestock industry, there was opposition to the bill from environmental groups disturbed by the cuts to the conservation programs, anti-tax groups who saw the bill as another government bailout and agriculture groups who have been pushing the House to vote on a five-year farm bill that, in addition to making fundamental changes in agriculture safety nets, would restore the disaster relief programs.
The current long-term farm bill expires at the end of September.