Wednesday night the House passed a $10.9 billion supplemental bill for hurricane assistance for the southern and eastern states. The measure, approved by a 412-0 vote, included a controversial $3 billion drought aid package for all weather-related disasters. The catch--drought aid, not hurricane assistance, is offset with funds designated for one of the most hailed conservation programs.
According to CongressDaily the House plan proposed by Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, "would cap payment from the Conservation Security Program at $6 billion over 10 years, down from an estimated $9 billion."
The Senate contends drought aid should not be offset, adding that whether a hurricane or drought destroyed crops, a loss is a loss. A bipartisan group of senators were successful in attaching the aid to the Homeland Security appropriations bill without offsets. However, White House and House of Representative leaders want to keep the appropriations bill free from non-security related items.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, authored the CSP plan and warns "utilizing conservation funding for what is essentially a political shell will backfire. The White House and House Republicans have made a misguided decision, which will have long-term negative implications for agriculture and sets a dangerous precedent for future disaster assistance efforts."
Both sides agree that the drought aid is important, especially with several election battleground states needing the money. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry said in a statement that he's hopeful Congress will pass legislation to ensure farmers get the assistance they need. "Producers across the country need disaster aid, and it should be equitable, emergency and immediate assistance," he says.
Since the House passed the bill that includes immediate hurricane and drought assistance, the Senate can either vote up or down on that bill. Democrats could try to add amendments, which would make the process drag on longer than possible. Otherwise Senate Republicans could attach the provision in conference to the time-sensitive Homeland Security appropriations bill.