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Stabenow still backs farm bill with disaster aid; Roberts puts top priority on disaster aid

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Senate Agriculture ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., both expressed support for disaster aid for farmers and ranchers today, but approached it from different angles.

Stabenow said that her first priority is still passage of the five-year farm bill that includes disaster aid, while Roberts said his first priority is disaster aid, with the five-year bill to follow.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
Of the House vote on disaster aid expected Thursday, Stabenow said, “I’m very concerned that they’re not taking up the full farm bill.” She said it was unprecedented for the full House not to take up a farm bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee.

Stabenow said she was also concerned about the “narrow scope” of the House disaster package, which provides most of the assistance to livestock producers.

“It’s not as good as what we passed in the Senate,” she told reporters, adding that “fruit growers across the country and in Michigan” need assistance.

Stabenow noted that she had not seen the House bill, but said “it’s not clear they can pass it.”

Asked about the cuts to conservation programs to pay for the disaster aid, Stabenow

In the past, Stabenow has said she hoped the House and the Senate could go to conference on the farm bill over August, but with that now unlikely, today she said the House and Senate agriculture leaders and their staffs could still reach “policy agreement” this month, which would make it easier to pass a bill when Congress comes back in September.

Even though House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., appears to have been overridden by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., during the debate over an extension and disaster aid, Stabenow said she still believes that she, Roberts, Lucas and House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., “can come to policy agreements” because both the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee have passed bills on a bipartisan basis. Stabelow said she has confidence in the other agriculture committee leaders.

Stabenow noted that the five-year farm bill would help farmers who are experiencing disasters this year. An aide noted that the Senate-passed bill includes help for fruit and vegetable producers, dairy reforms, and programs to ease access to crop insurance, in addition to the livestock and tree assistance.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
Roberts told reporters that he also wants a five-year bill, but wants disaster aid passed first because no one knows whether the farm bill will be passed in September or in the lame duck session. “I don’t think it’s possible to pick a particular time to do a five-year bill,” Roberts said.

Asked whether the Senate would take up the House disaster package, Roberts describe that question as “hypothetical.”

Senators, he said, do not know the form of the House disaster bill and whether it will pass.

Of the offsets from the environmental quality incentives program and the conservation stewardship program that the House plans to use to pay for disaster aid, Roberts said he would prefer that the EQIP program not be cut.

Although there does not seem to be time for the Senate to pass disaster aid before the August recess, Roberts said, “I can’t imagine someone holding up drought aid.”