Compromises near on disaster aid, Cuba

If everything falls into place, farmers could be looking at a disaster assistance package of $2.2 billion to $2.4 billion for the 2000 crop year.

Those figures - about $1.4 billion for crop losses and $800 million for pasture losses - would be in addition to the $5.5 billion in supplemental Agricultural Marketing Transition Act payments Congress provided in early September.

They're also substantially above the $900 million in disaster aid included in the Senate-passed version of the fiscal 2001 agricultural appropriations bill. The House version contained no additional assistance.

The new spending came after Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman finally provided the political cover needed for the increased aid in testimony before the House Agriculture Committee on Sept. 27. USDA put the losses from this year's drought at $1.4 billion for row crops and $800 million for livestock.

"These numbers could rise as we watch and see what happens," Glickman told the committee.

USDA said the weather losses appear to primarily impact four states - Nebraska, Kansas, Texas and Georgia. But farmers in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee would argue that the weather has dealt them a severe blow as well.

While some have criticized providing additional drought aid, Congress has become more agreeable in recent days because of the desire by members of both parties to return to the campaign trail by the scheduled adjournment date of Oct. 6.

Glickman announced he would recommend the president veto any legislation that did not include substantially more disaster assistance than the $900 million included in the Senate ag appropriations bill. That raised the specter of another government shutdown just before the elections.

All of this agreeableness might have come to naught, however, if the House Republican leadership and a bi-partisan group of farm-state congressmen and senators had not compromised on Cuban trade sanctions.

Although the House leadership tried to put it to rest in July, the issue came back to life after proponents of restoring normal trade said the earlier agreement was so restrictive Cuba would be unable to obtain financing to buy from the United States.

In the agreement hammered out on Sept. 28, U.S. banks are not allowed to directly finance Cuban sales, but foreign banks could and notify U.S. banks when the arrangements are complete. U.S. exporters also would be authorized to travel to Cuba to promote sales, but Cuban products could not be sold in the United States.

One of the defining moments of the sanctions debate may have come on Sept. 25 when Sen. Thad Cochran, chairman of the Senate Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee, said Senate Republicans would not back down on the more liberal sanctions reform language in the Senate version of the agricultural appropriations bill.

"There are two different and strongly held opinions, and my obligation is to defend the Senate position," he said. "We will argue for consideration of the Senate language by the House."

The House is expected to take up the conference report containing the increased disaster assistance and new Cuban sanctions reform provisions shortly. If it passes the House, it goes to the Senate and then to the president.

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