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Friday, August 3, 2012 - Page updated at 10:00 p.m.
Farm bill falls victim to Congress infighting
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
The New York Times
WASHINGTON — An effort to provide emergency aid for U.S. ranchers and farmers reeling from a year of drought, frost and other calamities collapsed Thursday as members of Congress departed for their five-week August recess, leaving behind a pile of unfinished legislation as they go home to campaign for re-election.
After refusing to consider a five-year farm measure, House Republican leaders jammed through a short-term, $383 million package of loans and grants for livestock producers and a limited number of farmers. The measure passed 223-197.
Democratic leaders in the Senate, which already passed a bipartisan five-year bill, refused to take up the House measure, faulting House Republican leaders for failing to consider the broader legislation in time.
"I'm not passing a bill that only covers some producers," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Moments after the House passed its bill, Stabenow took to the Senate floor to say that lawmakers would instead work informally over the August recess to try and put together a new measure to present to Congress when it meets in September. The White House would have considered the House measure, but she resisted, Senate aides said.
The failure to advance the farm bill or the emergency aid was all the more striking given the extent of the continuing drought, with county after county across the nation having been declared an agricultural-disaster area.
The farm bill, which has historically appealed to members on both sides of the aisle, was one of a series of measures that fell victim to partisan fighting — and occasionally infighting — in recent weeks.
On Thursday, a bipartisan cybersecurity bill that would have established standards for the computer systems that oversee the country's critical infrastructure was stopped by a filibuster as some leading Republicans yielded to the concerns of major business interests.
The renewal of a measure to protect women from domestic violence — an issue that has also generally enjoyed bipartisan support in both chambers — stalled and routine-spending bills and tax measures were also languishing, even as Congress faces a year-end pileup of expiring tax laws and spending cuts.
"It's not only the failure to take on the biggest single threat to our country right now, that of cyberattacks," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a co-author of the cybersecurity bill. "Or to complete the farm bill. But also, we've yet to pass a single appropriations bill. Tax issues remain completely unresolved, as well. I think it's really disappointing."
Without the aid, livestock producers will have no government safety net. Without them there is little they can do except find another source of feed or start selling or killing animals. Crop insurance will take care of growers of corn, soybean, wheat and most other crops.
Despite the multiple impasses, Congress has made progress in some areas. Both chambers quickly agreed this week to tighten sanctions against Iran. House and Senate leaders reached a tentative agreement that would keep the government operating after the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30. But that measure must still pass the House and Senate next month.
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