Congress is struggling toward the end of its divisive 109th session by tackling tax and trade issues ... but shelving sensitive budgetary matters.
*Unable to pass appropriation bills for nine of 11 federal agencies, it appears likely that lawmakers will approve a *continuing resolution to allow the government to operate ... and then *shift responsibility for fiscal '07 funding to Democrats when they become the majority next year.
Farm program funding is among the unfinished business of the Congress and, to that end, farm state lawmakers used the waning days of this lame-duck session to try and secure help for constituents.
One such attempt was led by North Dakota lawmakers in search of emergency aid for drought victims. It was a repeat effort, which even yet may not be resolved.
North Dakota Senators Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan were the chief supporters of a $4.9 billion disaster aid amendment on the Senate floor this week. Supporters of the amendment sought to attach the disaster aid to a fiscal year 2007 agriculture appropriations measure.
Sen. Dorgan argued the measure addressed disasters during 2005 and 2006 that were not dealt with in previous Hurricane Katrina-based legislation.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D –North Dakota: "The Congress said to these farmers in the south – you lost your crops due to weather and we're going to help you. These farmers have lost their crops to weather…there just in a different part of the country. And no it's not a hurricane, it's a drought. This had a name – this didn't. Is there a difference?"
Sen. Kent Conrad, D – North Dakota: "This is a corn field in my home county in July. You've probably heard the old saying ‘corn should be knee-high by the 4th of July.' Well you can see there is almost nothing coming up…it's a moonscape. This is what southern North Dakota looked like – absolute devastation."
Despite numerous disaster stories and supporting graphs, the North Dakota Senators faced stiff opposition from Republican lawmakers.
Sen. Judd Gregg, R – New Hampshire: "These aren't emergencies; these are simply an attempt to get votes. That's the way it works around here – you get a big chunk of money and you put an emergency title on it."
After the dust settled, the amendment received a 57-37 majority – falling three votes shy of the necessary 60 votes for passage. But proponents of the disaster aid remain optimistic as the entire agriculture appropriations bill may be rolled into an omnibus spending package next year. In this case, legislators can reintroduce the aid package after Congress reconvenes in January.
The Bush Administration has pledged to veto the agriculture appropriations bill if a disaster aid package is included.