Awaits president's signature...

Ag appropriations bill has $3.6 billion in aid The Senate has passed and sent to President Clinton the fiscal 2001 agricultural appropriations bill that includes $3.6 billion in disaster aid for farmers and some relief on trade sanctions against Cuba.

Clinton was expected to sign the bill, which cleared the Senate by an 86-8 margin. Earlier, the House passed the legislation by a vote of 340 to 75, making it unlikely the president would attempt to veto it.

Proponents of lifting the 38-year-old economic sanctions against Cuba were giving the legislation mixed reviews. Some said sales would occur after the Cuban government gets through venting its displeasure over restrictions left in the bill. Others said it was unlikely any sales would result.

"Hopefully, it will be a step toward a broader opening," said Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark., who supported removing the Cuban embargo.

But Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., called it "one step forward, six or seven sideways and maybe one step backward" because of the legislation's bar on U.S. government or private bank financing of food sales and new restrictions on travel to Cuba.

Cuban President Fidel Castro led a demonstration of an estimated 800,000 persons to protest the restrictions in the legislation. "They have included a load of restrictions which are humiliating for the country and make it impossible in practice," Castro reportedly said.

Farm organizations were much more enthusiastic about the bill's disaster assistance provisions. The $3.6 billion, which is based on a Congressional Budget Office estimate of how much assistance farmers will require this year, includes $490 million for aid to livestock producers and $473 million for dairy assistance.

Rather than having to be pro-rated among eligible farmers, this year's assistance program should cover growers' losses at 100 percent. The bill also requires USDA to consider quality losses in its disaster assistance computations.

"We're not sure how long it might take for USDA to work out those details," said Mark Keenum, chief of staff to Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who wrote much of the bill's language. "But, we gave them pretty explicit instructions on what we thought should be done."

Besides an estimated $2 billion-plus in aid for row crop producers, the bill also provides payments to honey producers, whose government price support program was eliminated several years ago.

Some observers thought the president could sign the bill as early as Oct. 25. That's the expiration date for the latest continuing resolution passed by Congress to keep the government operating.

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