Iowa Public Television


Senate Approves $6 Billion in Drought Aid

posted on September 13, 2002

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson.

Despite the fact stock markets swooned as the reverberation of sabers rattling reached trading floors, numbers released this week indicate the nation's economy is continuing to careen forward.

Retail sales last month were stronger, while wholesale inflation barely budged. The news means the Federal Reserve is unlikely to raise interest rates from the 40 year lows. Even-so, the nation's major industries are still not investing in capital assets and genuine economic growth is not likely to pick up much speed until business begins to invest more in itself.

The situation is not helped by debate in Washington over whether to go to war or to cut taxes. Even supply-side war hawks know both can't be done. And then there are some imminent domestic needs, especially in farm country that is suffering a serious drought. This week, with an eye to November, the Senate pushed through a relief package that the White House opposes.

Senate Approves $6 Billion in Drought Aid

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-ND: "Do we need disaster assistance?"

Crowd: "Yeah!"

Conrad: "Do we need it now?"

Crowd: "Yeah!"

Conrad: "Well, I think it's loud and clear…"

Loud and clear enough for an overwhelming number of election-minded lawmakers to hear.

The Senate this week passed by a 79-to-16 margin legislation providing nearly $6 billion in aid for drought-stricken farmers and ranchers.

In direct defiance of White House objections, farm state Republicans, many up for re-election this fall, joined the Democratic majority in approving the aid. The president and other critics of the emergency assistance claim the money should come from the existing farm law, which provided a $73 billion increase in government subsidies over previous farm policy. Providing a supplemental package, they argue, should require an "offset" from elsewhere in the farm budget.

Not so, say supporters, who claim higher commodity prices will save the feds about $5.6 billion in farm bill-related payments this year.

Sen. Tom Daschle, D-SD: "We don't need an offset. We simply know that these resources can be dedicated without the commitment of an offset, per se. This is an emergency. We need this help."

Others, including the author of the 1996 Freedom to Farm Law, supported the legislation, but reluctantly.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-KN: "How on Earth did we get here after passing the so-called greatest farm bill ever? Because Mr. President, in my view, the new farm bill is flawed. Simply put, it provides no assistance to farmers when they need it the most."

Despite the large show of support for the legislation from the Senate and most farm groups, the future of the aid package is in doubt. Analysts see an uphill fight in the House and little chance at this point of the aid surviving a presidential veto.


Tags: agriculture crops disaster relief drought news politics weather