Arkansas Dems push disaster bills

Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Rep. Marion Berry, Democrats with close ties to the Arkansas farming community, have asked President Bush to make funding for agricultural disaster assistance a national priority in 2006.

Both Lincoln and Berry called on the president to give support to legislation they introduced last fall to provide farmers an additional direct payment or an additional payment based on yield loss from the droughts, hurricanes and high fuel prices of 2005.

“As you prepare to send your fiscal year 2007 budget proposal to Congress, I respectfully ask that you provide the necessary support for America's farmers and rural communities by including funds to provide emergency agriculture assistance while maintaining the farm safety net,” said Lincoln in a letter sent to the White House on Feb. 1.

“I also respectfully ask that you reconsider your administration's proposals which undermine the commodity title provisions in the 2002 farm bill. In my view, breaking a commitment with our farm families midway through a contract is reason enough not to cut a hole through the farm safety net.” (The president's budget proposal, delivered on Feb. 6, contained no disaster assistance and called for spending cuts of $7.7 billion.)

Berry's letter, also written before the Feb. 6 budget message, was more blunt than Lincoln's.

“Our farmers are facing the worst conditions of my lifetime, and the president doesn't want to give them the time of day,” said Berry. “If we can find the money to pass billions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy and fight two wars, surely this country can make sure our domestic food production remains secure.”

Without aid for farmers, the United States could soon find itself in the same situation it faces with oil, said Berry. “We simply cannot depend on other countries to provide us with food for our tables and clothes for our backs.”

Lincoln asked the president to consider supporting the emergency assistance package (S-1804) she and Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., introduced last fall. That legislation also includes an additional direct payment for producers who experienced losses due to adverse weather conditions in 2005.

Berry noted that the president has announced a $140 billion supplemental appropriations request for emergency expenses associated with the war on terror and hurricane damage in his fiscal year 2007 budget. He said he is working with colleagues in both the House and Senate to attach an agriculture relief package in this budget cycle that will provide farmers with an additional 50 percent direct payment or an additional payment based on yield loss.

Arkansas' farmers suffered record losses this year due to natural disasters and unanticipated input costs, he said. This is the fourth time Berry has contacted the White House since he introduced the Agricultural Assistance Act of 2005 (H.R.-3702) last September.

“As a farmer's daughter and one who stays in close contact with the producers of my state, it is my hope that you will strongly consider this request,” said Lincoln. “Working families in rural America share an equal role in strengthening the fabric of our nation.

“In my view, agriculture deserves a more prominent position than it has received in your previous budget proposals, and it is my sincere hope that your 2007 budget proposal more appropriately reflects the needs of American agriculture and the rural communities which rely on a strong agriculture economy.”

Berry, one of the few members of Congress to have been actively engaged in farming during his career, served as agricultural assistant to President Clinton before running for his first term in 1998.

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