Wednesday, August 1, 2012

UPDATED (August 1 - 1:59 PM): One-Year Farm Bill Extension Pulled in Favor of Stand-alone Disaster Relief Bill

Facing likely defeat, the GOP pulled its one-year farm bill extension bill from today's House docket in favor of a narrower, $383 Million disaster aid bill. The House Rules Committee late on Tuesday pulled the farm bill extension from its agenda at the last minute, essentially killing any chance that it would be voted on this week by the House. The House instead will be voting on a stand-alone drought relief bill; probably on Thursday before Members leave for the Congressional five-week recess. The substitute will restore livestock indemnity and forage programs that have expired, with some assistance also being provided for specialty crop producers. To reduce costs below those provided in the combined one-year Farm Bill - disaster relief bill (which provided for both 2012 and 2103 relief), the aid under the stand-alone will apply only to 2012. That represents a reduction of about $256 million below the relief costs included in the one-year farm bill extension. Offsets to pay for the disaster relief will reportedly come from imposing caps on two conservation programs, mirroring a House Appropriations Committee cap proposal contained in its Fiscal Year 2013 USDA appropriations bill.

Assuming the House bill passes, the Senate will face pressure to also pass the measure before week's end. There is an outside chance that it may actually wait until after Senators return from their August recess to consider the House bill or a Senate counterpart.  Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) is said to have filed on Tuesday morning a similar drought relief bill in the Senate.  Earlier this month, Merkely had sponsored S. 3395, the Wildfire and Drought Relief for Ranchers and Farmers Act of 2012; however that bill called for funding the aid with funds from the Commodity Credit Corporation.

While Senate Republicans have expressed a willingness to take up the bill and approve it before next week, prior to the Republican announcement, Democrats had been divided on how to proceed if the House presented a disaster aid-only bill. Some Democrats, notably Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), continued yesterday to press for a full five-year Farm Bill approach. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) left the door open to considering a stand-alone disaster bill, saying about the House yesterday that "if they want to do something about drought relief, send that to us." .

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