Disaster legislation may be considered

House Republican leaders will schedule consideration of disaster assistance legislation the week of July 30.

Reports indicate House Republican leaders will schedule consideration of disaster assistance legislation the week of July 30. As press reports about the drought’s devastating impact covering much of the United States intensify, House leaders, who have been reluctant to schedule consideration of the comprehensive farm legislation approved by the Agriculture Committee on a strong bipartisan vote, also are increasingly reluctant to send members home for the August recess without addressing growing losses.

Republican leaders are considering legislation that would reauthorize several livestock assistance programs that expired in 2011 and may include a one-year extension of current farm law.

Initially, House Democrats expressed strong opposition to the plan to include an extension arguing the Committee bill was ready and provides the long-term, predictable policy that farmers and ranchers require. Rep. Peterson (D-Minn.), ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee said, “Whenever you get leadership involved, you get a big mess. Both sides.”

However, there seems to be a reconsideration of the opposition if the one-year extension provides a way to get the House and Senate to a conference committee leading to final agreement on a five-year bill that could be considered by the House and Senate this fall. The procedures and strategy are being discussed and legislation likely is to be considered by mid-week. If Democrats decide to oppose the extension, it is questionable whether Republicans can muster 218 votes to extend current law given conservatives opposition to direct payments and nutrition programs in current law. This contrasts with the provisions in the Committee-approved bill which terminate direct payments, reform nutrition programs and reduce future spending on agriculture programs by almost $36 billion.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Lucas (R-Okla.) has said he would vote for the extension but views it as an intermediate step towards completing work on comprehensive legislation. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Chairwoman Stabenow (D-Mich.) initially opposed the extension but recently has said that if the House sends the Senate a one-year extension, she will use a procedure to move to conference.

One outstanding question is how the House will pay for the livestock disaster programs’ renewal, estimated to cost between $300 and $500 million. Another question is how an extension might affect the budget baseline and development of future policy.

The NCC continues to work with Committee leaders and the agriculture community to urge adoption of comprehensive, balanced, long-term farm policy.

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