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Fight for disaster aid 'far from over'

WASHINGTON - Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., last week continued their efforts to try to get Congress to pass farm disaster aid for the 2005 and 2006 crop years, but so far, to no avail.

WASHINGTON - Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., last week continued their efforts to try to get Congress to pass farm disaster aid for the 2005 and 2006 crop years, but so far, to no avail.

Conrad, the author of the Senate disaster aid bill, and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., tried Sept. 22 to get the Senate to agree to debate and vote on the disaster aid bill, but the Senate leadership blocked the maneuver.

Conrad said, "A fair vote has been denied here in the Senate today and the party in power has turned its back on America's farmers. But this fight is far from over. I won't stand by and let this be swept under the rug. The livelihoods of thousands of farm families are at stake."

Pomeroy, meanwhile, raised the issue at two House Agriculture Committee hearings.

When Pomeroy asked House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., whether the committee would be convened to consider a disaster bill, Goodlatte told him he had raised the issue with the House Republican leadership, but the leaders told him told him they will not support farm disaster aid without paying for it by cutting other farm programs when it's before or after the elections.

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Goodlatte said he had asked the House leaders to consider any disaster aid bill the Senate sends them.

Goodlatte also he was "very aware of the serious drought" and that he has been approached for assistance by members from many states. Goodlatte said he has offered the members the committee staff's assistance to "scrutinize" the farm bill to look for funding by cutting other farm programs, but that "so far, no one has taken me up on that offer."

But Goodlatte also said that in two previous years, money had been taken out of the Conservation Security Program to pay for disaster aid, but said that option is not available this year because the program has been capped and is "fully subscribed."

Pomeroy said that the disaster this year should warrant emergency funding. "We shouldn't have to cannibalize the farm bill," Pomeroy said.

Pomeroy also noted that Congress has spent $300 billion on the war in Iraq "off budget" and said that the amount requested for disaster aid would amount to only "a week and half's worth" of that spending.

Pomeroy warned Goodlatte that members would look for "ways" outside the committee to get an emergency farm disaster package passed since "the committee has not been available to us."

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