President George Bush is attempting to reign in spending, but his fellow senators are not following suit. Bush requested $92.2 billion for Iraq and hurricane relief; senators added $14 billion or more in earmarks including a $3.9 billion emergency disaster aid package for farmers.
Bush threatens his first-ever veto unless the spending bill is cut back to below $95 billion. The Senate vote against cutting the $106.5 billion was 72-26, more than enough to override a veto.
Emergency assistance for farmers and ranchers included in the Supplemental Appropriations bill included:
- Crop loss and quality loss assistance similar to those in past disaster bills.
- A Livestock Compensation Program to reimburse ranchers in disaster counties for their added livestock feed costs.
- Supplemental energy payments equal to 30% of a producerâ€™s Direct Payment, intended to offset the high costs of energy. (Approximately $1.5 billion)
- Specific assistance for producers in Louisiana, Florida, and other hurricane states.
- Assistance for sugarbeet growers around the U.S. and in the Red River Valley.
- Assistance for specialty crop producers.
- Funding for additional Farm Service Agency (FSA) personnel so the FSA can expedite the administration of the disaster program.
- Assistance to farmers whose farmland has been lost to flooding.
Groups criticize need for emergency aid
A new analysis from the Environmental Working Group finds that the emergency aid will benefit crop farmers who already receive subsidies. A statement from EWG says most of the nation's farmers and ranchers producing fruits, vegetables and livestock will be excluded, even though they also experience high fuel and fertilizer costs.
In 2005, U.S. farmers posted the second highest net farm income in history. EWG says the aid acts as a "bonus for subsidized farmers." The EWG analysis shows that 10% of the aid recipients will collect nearly 60% of the money.
The top one percent of recipients will get an average of $21,000 each, while the vast majority - nearly 900,000 recipients - will collect an average of about $369 apiece. In fact, 54 entities, most of them very large commercial farms, will collect a bonus subsidy averaging more than $100,000, while more than 300,000 recipients will receive less than $100.
EWG's analysis found that at least 9% of the emergency aid - $138 million - will go to recipients who own land but do not farm it themselves, and thus did not incur the higher energy costs the bonus subsidy is meant to defray, EWG says.
"We support helping farmers and ranchers hit by weather-related crop and livestock losses in 2005. We would also support reasonable energy assistance if all producers were made eligible, if they documented their need, and if reasonable limits were placed on the amount of aid," says EWG President Ken Cook. "But it's wasting taxpayers' money to give a 30% increase in subsidy payments to 1.1 million crop subsidy recipients solely because they're on the USDA list of those who already collected $5.2 billion in automatic subsidy payments in 2005 - and pretend it is energy assistance for agriculture."