House passes livestock disaster relief bill

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, August 2, 2012- The House of Representatives voted to pass a livestock disaster aid package, the Agricultural Disaster Assistance Act of 2012, today with a 223-197 vote.  

Although House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said the measure pays for itself and contributes to deficit reduction to fill a gap left in disaster aid for livestock producers, he emphasized that “the underlying issue still is passing a comprehensive five-year farm bill.”

“In 2008 Congress passed a farm bill that did not include a final year of disaster assistance,” he said. “What we are doing is fixing a problem. We have a drought, we don't have a disaster program and I'm here to provide a solution.”

H.R. 6233 will cost approximately $383 million over 10 years, with $639 million in offsets from the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for a net reduction of $256 million over 10 years.  The drought relief bill retroactively extends the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), the Livestock Forage Program (LFP), the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program (ELAP) and the Tree Assistance Program (TAP). 

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However, Lucas and Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., noted that similar provisions for livestock producers are included in the five-year farm bill passed through the House Agriculture Committee last month, but prevented from reaching the House floor by Republican leadership.

The vote on the disaster package today fell largely along party lines, with just 46 Republicans voting against it. Peterson agreed to vote in favor of the disaster package, but noted “it is a sad substitute for what is really needed: a long term farm policy.”

Peterson said he was “surprised at how close it was,” noting that he had several Democrats vote with him for the package. He explained that he doesn't believe the drought relief bill will do any damage to getting a five-year farm bill to the House floor in September. 

“I thought the extension would do damage,” he said of the scrapped one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill. “That's why I came out against it.” 

He predicted that “by if some miracle we get this on the floor,” there might be between 80-100 Democratic votes for a five-year farm bill in the House.  

“Working in a bipartisan fashion, Lucas and I have crafted a five-year farm bill making many important and needed reforms. If he had his way, we would have already passed a farm bill,” Peterson said on the House floor Thursday morning.

“The Agriculture Committee's farm bill not only included the livestock provisions we're considering today, but improves the farm safety net on a wide-ranging list of commodities,” he said, noting his concerns about the cuts to conservation programs used to pay for drought relief. “This is not the right approach. If we had more time maybe we could find a better way to do this, but in the rush of putting this bill together it doesn't give us time to explore the necessary options.”

Earlier in the day, House members voted to consider the disaster package with a 235-181 vote. Jared Polis, D-Colo., called the disaster aid bill a “big government bovine bailout” and labeled the relief package as an effort to “bail out” livestock producers “because the price of hay has gone up.”

House Rules Committee member Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., defended the legislation during the debate and Lucas pointed out in his floor comments that the bill simply reauthorizes existing programs for livestock producers not funded in the last year of the 2008 farm bill. 

“Because of budget issues, the fifth year was not financed,” Lucas said. “We need to fulfill our commitment of what we said would be there.”

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., “reluctantly” opposed the bill on grounds that the disaster aid exists in a long-term farm bill. He said the drought relief package “is sadly more about giving the Republican leadership relief when they go back home in August than helping farmers and ranchers.”

“Instead of working on a conference committee, we are voting on a patchwork measure more about politics than policy, and more than likely going nowhere in the U.S. Senate,” Costa said. “Drought relief alone is not enough.” 

Several members called for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to bring the five-year bill to the floor in September. Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, said while he is not “100 percent pleased” with the situation, he still voted for the disaster relief package, commenting on the House floor that “not passing a long-term farm bill is bringing uncertainty to farm families.”

Representatives planned to vote on a one-year extension of the 2008 farm policy this week, but that was pulled Tuesday night without the needed votes. The move left time for consideration of the stand-alone drought relief package passed today. 

Before the passage vote, Democrats presented a failed motion to recommit the relief bill. The motion would provide a sense of Congress to consider a five-year farm bill and serve as an attempted vehicle for the long-term legislation.

“Traditionally, the farm bill is one of the most bipartisan pieces of legislation we vote on,” said Costa while introducing his motion to recommit the drought relief bill. However, Lucas appealed to the body to reject the motion, saying the members “should go home and prepare for a farm bill debate” in regular order on the House floor in September.

Although Peterson commented that today's vote “doesn't move anything” one way or the other, Lucas maintained that it illustrates the dynamics of a potential farm bill vote.

“In the House, where fiscal issues are so critically important, this body wouldn't take on spending that was not offset,” he said, explaining that a long-term bill will have to represent a compromise of the middle. “If we fraction this up into provincial attitudes, then we won't get a comprehensive farm bill that represents the coalition of the middle.” 

Lucas and Peterson indicated after the vote Thursday they would be continuing conversations with Senate Agriculture Committee leaders on a joint five-year bill. 

During a press conference Thursday morning, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi blamed House Republicans for stalling the House Agriculture Committee's farm bill legislation, commenting that “our economy needs us to have a farm bill.”

“I see this as indicative of failure,” she said. “We should be voting on a farm bill, not a drought bill”


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