The House of Representatives passed a $639 million, stand-alone livestock disaster bill Thursday afternoon, forgoing consideration of the pending farm bill that would authorize similar disaster spending.
The bill, approved on a 223 to 197 vote, came to the floor after a week of twists and turns worthy of a spy novel.
Eschewing consideration of the 2012 Farm Bill draft approved by the House Agriculture Committee, late last week House leaders announced a coming vote on a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill with additional disaster assistance.
That concept was widely opposed by Members and farm groups, including NAWG, who are seeking a five-year bill. By late Tuesday, it was thrown out in favor of a disaster-only package, to be considered on Thursday’s suspension calendar.
Evidently lacking the 2/3 majority needed, the plan changed again Wednesday, with disaster-only bill going to the Rules Committee, which set up a Thursday afternoon vote only requiring a majority for passage.
Ultimately, the disaster bill was considered as stand-alone legislation under a closed rule, meaning there was no opportunity for amendment and it received limited time for debate.
The bill, which stands little chance of Senate consideration, would cut $639 million from the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Disaster assistance is expected to cost $383 million of that total, with the remaining $256 million going to deficit reduction, permanently removed from farm programs.
On Wednesday, NAWG joined 11 other groups in a statement expressing displeasure with the disaster-only bill.
“We do not oppose passage of a disaster assistance bill, but note that almost identical provisions to retroactively extend these four programs are included in the Senate-passed farm bill and the bill reported by the House Agriculture Committee. Those measures would likely be included in any conference committee report,” the groups wrote.
NAWG is supportive of a proposal from Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) that would provide relief for livestock producers and extend ag disaster assistance program SURE into 2012 to help crop producers who have widespread losses. The Iowa delegation has introduced similar language in the House.
The SURE program was included in the 2008 Farm Bill as a type of “permanent” disaster aid program, but its funding expired last year.
The program is a whole farm support system that supplements growers’ crop insurance contracts, which only cover a portion of yield and revenue risk during times of severe natural disaster like this year. NAWG supports utilizing this format for assistance to farmers, some of whom are suffering through their second and third successive years of drought in wheat country.
According to USDA, just over half of U.S. counties are now designated disaster areas, mostly because of drought. A program like SURE would provide extra assistance to the areas where farmers have been hit by such extreme weather.
The Drought Monitor shows nearly 80 percent of the country is in some kind of drought, compared to just over 40 at this time last year. More than 22 percent of the country is in extreme or exceptional drought.
USDA announced this week it would expand emergency haying and grazing on approximately 3.8 million acres of conservation land to help livestock producers, and that crop insurance companies have agreed to provide a short grace period for farmers on insurance premiums in 2012.
More from USDA on disaster- and drought- related resources is at www.usda.gov/drought.
The Drought Monitor is accessible at http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/.
Ag groups’ full statement on the disaster bill is available at http://www.wheatworld.org/news-events/2012/08/coalition-statement-on-house-disaster-legislation/.