While the president wrestled with trade matters in the Far East, House Republicans on Friday narrowly approved a budget-cutting plan that is a major part of their agenda. The bill, which passed by just two votes, makes modest but politically painful cuts across a variety of programs for the poor, for students, and for farmers. Supporters say the legislation will cut $50 billion from the deficit by the end of the decade.
It's tough for politicians on the verge of an election year to make such cuts. It's even tougher to propose new spending at a time when the budget axe is flying. But that was the case this week when lawmakers floated a new proposal to help farmers affected by hurricanes.
A measure was introduced in both the House and Senate that would provide more than $2 (B) billion dollars in aid to farmers in Gulf States hit by this autumn's hurricanes.
The bill particularly would help producers of nursery crops, which usually aren't covered by insurance. That industry suffered more than $800 (M) million in crop and building damage from hurricanes Katrina and Wilma.
Sugar growers in Louisiana and Florida would be eligible for about $400 (M) million dollars in assistance.
The proposed bill also includes $40 (M) million dollars for assistance in replacing lost housing for farmworkers.
Any producer of citrus, sugar, vegetables, livestock, nursery plants, tropical fruit, cotton, peanuts, ornamentals or fisheries, is eligible if they meet the federal damage thresholds and grow their crops in a federally declared disaster area.
The sponsor of the Senate bill says he hopes to attach the measure to any hurricane aid packages that might arise. So far that assistance has focused on recovery from Hurricane Katrina and has not included agriculture. But the bill faces an uncertain future. One lawmaker warns that Congress is experiencing "disaster fatigue" and is under pressure to cut spending.