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Overlooked in Iraq Supplemental: Fate of Drought Relief

With concerns over the of future Iraq dominating debate on the pending Defense supplemental spending bill, billions of dollars tucked into the legislation for drought aid to farmers are being far overshadowed — but whether those funds will remain in the final bill is not yet clear.

Lawmakers pushing for drought relief expressed optimism that the final version of a war spending bill will contain $4 billion in aid for Midwestern farmers. Democratic leaders added the money in part to win the support of moderate lawmakers from Midwestern states who m ight otherwise have reservations over the Iraq-related provisions.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said he he considers the spending to be for a legitimate “emergency” and backs it because farmers in his home state have faced drought-like conditions in recent years.

“I’m usually opposed,” to additional spending, Nelson added.

But last year, lawmakers ended up stripping billions for drought relief from a war supplemental, and the same could happen again this year. The money’s fate may depend on whether the drought funds’ low profile compared to Iraq ends up being a benefit or a drawback to its passage.

Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) a senior House appropriator, said that concerns about the overall bill were taking priority over the farm aid.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), added that “my first priority is getting rid of the bad Iraq language. My second is emergency hurricane relief,” Vitter added. The question of agriculture relief was not a top concern, he said.

House appropriators are set to mark up the $124 billion spending bill tomorrow, and the Senate is slated to follow suit next week. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said he didn’t anticipate changes in the bill’s agriculture relief package before the committee marks it up.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) — who made seeking federal drought aid a major part of his 2004 campaign against then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) — said he would support agriculural relief, as long as he found Iraq language acceptable.

“I’m for the agricultural relief, and against some of the stuff they’re trying to do ,” said Thune.

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