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House Sends Drought Aid Package to Senate

In an effort not to go home empty-handed, the House today passed a $383 million one-year relief package to aid struggling livestock ranchers in the drought-ravaged country.

After a week of fits and starts, the measure passed the House on a 223-197 vote. But with the Senate unlikely to take up the measure, substantive relief will likely have to wait until Congress returns from the August recess and the national conventions.

Underscoring the tension in the parties on the bill, 46 Republicans voted against the measure, while 35 Democrats voted for it.

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said the Senate would not clear the House bill because it would not help many farmers, including Michigan-based producers of specialty crops.

“It’s not a complete disaster assistance program that they’re passing,” the Michigan Democrat said. “It doesn’t affect all of the drought areas. It doesn’t affect … areas where fruit production has been killed by early thaw and then freeze in Michigan and New York and Wisconsin and other — I mean — many places.”

Stabenow said it was better to try to work through the recess on a House-Senate farm bill agreement before having to turn to a broader drought aid measure.

“I’m not passing a bill that only covers some help for some producers,” Stabenow said.

The House-passed measure would backfill livestock aid funds as well as emergency assistance covering bees, trees and fish, all of which were included in the 2008 farm bill but expired in 2011.

“I do believe the action we’re going to take today will be responsible,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at his weekly press conference. “It’s one flaw that’s in the Democrat-passed farm bill from five years ago that desperately needs to be addressed.”

House Democrats, however, objected to the bill’s offsets, which come from substantive 10-year cuts to conservation programs.

House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said he does not like the bill for that reason but would vote for it simply because of his friendship with Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.).

“This is all politics, you know, so people can say when they go home that they voted for a disaster bill,” he said. “The Senate’s got a better disaster package in their farm bill. We should be doing a farm bill, not this.”

The House also easily voted down a Democratic alternative, which mirrored the Senate’s five-year farm bill.

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