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House expected to approve disaster aid bill

The House is expected to vote on the farm disaster bill before 5 p.m. EDT, and the bill is expected to pass.

The vote on the rule governing debate on the bill earlier today was 235 in favor to 181 against it.

The bill would reauthorize four disaster aid programs, but it is unlikely to become law because the Senate has already included the programs and others in the five-year farm bill it has passed.

The programs that the House bill would reauthorize are Livestock Indemnity Payments (LIP), Livestock Forage Disaster Programs (LFP), Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-raised Fish (ELAP), and the Tree Assistance Program (TAP).

The bill authorizes disaster assistance for 2012 only, and provides for payments totaling $383 million, a House Agriculture Committee spokeswoman said.

The money would come from cuts to the environmental quality incentives program known as EQIP and from the conservation stewardship program known as CSP. Those programs would be cut by a total of $639 million over 10 years ($350 million from EQIP, $289 million from CSP), with $256 million going to deficit reduction.

The rule on the bill allowed one hour of debate, but members took less than that amount of time. Debate on the bill was dominated by statements by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., that the House should take up the full five-year farm bill that their committee has passed.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla.
“I am committed to getting certainty for farmers” when Congress comes back into session in September, Lucas said, while urging members to vote for the disaster aid bill.

Lucas also said that conservation groups’ statements that the cut to the conservation programs to pay for the disaster aid and budget savings would “destroy conservation programs could not be farther from the truth.”

Of the farm bill, he said some people “love it,” others “hate it,” still others “love to hate it” and finally there are those who “hate to love it.”

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
Peterson said he would vote for the bill out of loyalty to Lucas and in the spirit of bipartisanship, but added, “This bill is a sad substitute for what is really needed — long-term farm policy.”

“I will continue to urge my colleagues to bring up the Agriculture Committee’s five-year farm bill to ensure that all producers will have the necessary assistance during times of disaster,” Peterson said.

He added that the passage of the disaster aid bill would not serve any purpose other than to provide political cover to members going home for the August recess, noting that the Senate is not interested in a bill that provides less disaster assistance than the five-year farm bill it has already passed.

Peterson also said that he has concerns about cuts to conservation to offset the disaster aid.

“I don’t think cutting conservation programs to offset the costs of disaster aid is the right approach,” he said. “If there was more time, maybe we could have worked together to find a better way to pay for this, but the rush to put this bill together didn’t give us the necessary time to fully explore all our options. This is yet another reason that I think bringing up the five-year farm bill makes more sense.”

Peterson noted that he and Lucas were ready to bring up the farm bill, but that House Republicans leaders refused to bring it up.

“No wonder no one likes Congress,” Peterson said. “Members will now have to explain to their constituents why the House did not even try to consider a new five-year farm bill. Frankly, we’re in this position because the House Leadership has refused to bring a five-year farm bill to the floor.”

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, and Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, were among the members who urged their colleagues to vote for the disaster bill and also said the House should take up the five-year bill.

Boswell said he hopes that next month House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, “welcomes us back with a farm bill on the floor.”

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., said he opposed the disaster aid bill because “we have another vehicle — the farm bill” to accomplish the same goal.

During the debate on the rule, Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., said he would oppose the bill because Congress should be debating the real cause of the drought: climate change.

H.R. 6233 Agricultural Disaster Assistance Act of 2012