WASHINGTON — The House, under pressure to extend relief to drought-hit farmers and ranchers before Congress begins its summer recess, is expected to take up legislation next week to revive several expired disaster assistance programs.
The legislation slated to reach the House floor as early as Wednesday would also extend for one year the five-year farm and food act that is set to expire at the end of September.
"It is critical that we provide certainty to our producers and address the devastating drought conditions that are affecting most of the country, and I look forward to supporting and advancing this legislation," said Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
The legislation would still have to be considered by the Senate before Congress leaves at the end of the week for a five-week recess.
The disaster relief would revive programs that were part of the 2008 farm bill but which expired last year. In particular they affect cattle, pork and other livestock producers who generally do not participate in the federally subsidized insurance programs that will partially shield corn, soybean and other crop producers from drought damage.
The cost of the legislation, which also covers farm-raised fish and tree disaster-assistance, was put at $621 million when stretched out over 10 years. That will be paid for by reductions in conservation programs and direct payments to farmers.
New five-year farm bills passed by the Senate in June and by the House Agriculture Committee earlier this month would eliminate direct payments, under which farmers are paid even when they don't plant a crop, to be replaced by new price and revenue support programs . Those direct payments, now costing about $5 billion a year, would continue if the one-year extension is enacted.
House Republican leaders have been reluctant to bring the new farm bill to the floor because of concerns it could go down to an embarrassing defeat. Some GOP conservatives object to the high cost — nearly $100 billion a year with 80 percent of that going to the food stamp program that now helps feed some 46 million people — while some Democrats oppose the bill because it would cut about $1.6 billion a year from the food stamp program.
But farm groups, as well as the Obama administration, have been pressing the House to act, citing the crisis over the drought as reason to put new farm policy into place as soon as possible.