HOUSE OMNIBUS BILL WOULD EXTEND '02 FARM BILL TO MID-MARCH
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Alabama's drought-stricken farmers could find some relief in a massive $516 billion spending bill that passed the House on a 253-154 roll call vote late Monday afternoon. The 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which would also extend the existing farm bill to mid-March, includes funding for 14 Cabinet agencies and troops in Afghanistan.
Voting "yes" were 212 Democrats and 42 Republicans, including Alabama's Democratic congressmen Bud Cramer and Artur Davis. Voting "no" were eight Democrats and 146 Republicans, including Alabama's Republican delegation of Robert Aderholt, Spencer Bachus, Jo Bonner, Terry Everett and Mike Rogers.
The bill's quick passage took some by surprise, partly due to an unusual voting procedure in which it took two votes -- the first for domestic agency budgets and foreign aid; the second (a 206-201 vote) for $31 billion for troops in Afghanistan. Republicans generally opposed the omnibus measure, arguing it's unfair to provide money for troops in Afghanistan but not Iraq.
The combined spending measure, 17 inches tall and more than 3,000 pages long, was then sent to the Senate which is expected to consider the legislation later this week after adding about $40 billion in defense spending, and the House is expected to approve that amended version before the week's end.
President Bush has signaled he will sign the final bill that makes it to his desk if it includes the defense funds; he had indicated he would veto earlier versions of the legislation.
A aide in Everett's office noted that although the bill would extend the current farm bill through mid-March 2008, it will not allow farmers to seek direct payments or access most of the other Farm Service Agency programs. "The extension to mid-March was to keep the baseline so that there is a program, but will not actually allow them to go in to sign up for 2008 crop year," said Jennifer Warren, a legislative assistant in Everett's office.
Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby's office announced it has secured, as part of the package, emergency agricultural aid which extends eligibility for the Crop Disaster Program, Livestock Compensation Program and Livestock Indemnity Program through Dec. 31. The measure would extend disaster programs enacted for 2005 and 2006 to include the 2007 crop.
"In 2007, we have seen Mother Nature wreak havoc throughout the entire nation," said Shelby. "Consequently, the agriculture industry is in dire straits with long-term ramifications for the cattleman, farmer and consumer. Alabama is suffering from the worst drought in over 100 years. This funding is an important step to ensure that our agriculture industry has access to financial assistance to help them begin recovering from this disaster."
On July 2, 2007, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Michael Johanns designated the entire State of Alabama as a primary disaster area due to the drought that began on Jan. 1. As a result of the designation, farm operators in all Alabama counties have eight months from the date of the designation to apply for low-interest emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency for losses that occurred during the 2007 crop year due to drought.
According to a summary of the measure's agricultural provisions by the House Committee on Appropriations, $979.4 million -- $127.6 million above 2007 and $154.7 million above President Bush's request -- is geared for conservation efforts and community development.
The bill restores many of the programs slated for major reductions in the president's request, including the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative, Resource Conservation and Development, and the watershed programs which are funded $75 million -- more than double last year's levels.
Another $874.6 million will go to fund programs that protect American agriculture against animal and plant diseases, such as avian influenza.
The package also includes $1.2 billion for bio-energy and renewable energy research and development, including loans and grants in rural areas. It also allocates $48.4 million for food safety, allowing the FDA to develop a rapid response team to counter potential outbreaks and hire new inspectors. It also includes $1.875 million for food safety research at Auburn University.
According to Shelby's office, $1.062 million will go toward fish vaccine and microbe research at Auburn University as well as $878,000 toward the university's catfish genome project to identify genes, pathogens and factors of traits in catfish.
Other provisions include:
-- $1.387 million for the ARS National Soil Dynamics Lab in Auburn -- in cooperation with Tuskegee University and Alabama A&M University -- for research to improve crop production practices.
-- $443,000 for peanut research in peanut-growing regions of Alabama and the Southeastern U.S.
-- $894,000 for precision agriculture research in Alabama.
The agricultural summary from the House Committee on Appropriations, which provides for $17.812 billion in discretionary agricultural funding, also calls for $46.6 million to fund affordable loans and grants for housing for farm laborers. Another $52.8 million is provided for grants for distance learning, telemedicine, and broadband development in rural areas.
The measure also provides $11.2 million for a system to detect potential waste, fraud and abuse in crop insurance and farm loan programs, and an additional $1 million for Inspector General oversight in this area.
The bill provides no new funding for animal identification. It does, however, set a timeline for the USDA to implement country-of-origin labeling and prohibits the USDA from establishing or implementing a rule allowing poultry products from China into the U.S.
Download House Committee On Appropriations' Agricultural Summary