The House of Representatives passed their one-year drought relief bill by a relatively thin margin yesterday, 223-197. They needed 35 votes from Democrats to get it across the line, as 46 Republicans begged off the bill. Here’s the roll call.
The House passed this on the last possible day of the session before the August recess, and the Senate did not get around to passage. So there will be no immediate diaster relief coming for livestock producers suffering under a price spike due to corn shortages.
Democratic leaders in the Senate, which has already passed a bipartisan five-year bill, said they were not inclined to rush through the House measure, blaming the Republican leaders in the House for failing to consider the broader legislation in time. The end result was that Congress could end up taking no action to provide drought aid before breaking for five weeks.
“I’m not passing a bill that only covers some producers,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan. As chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee, she ushered the Senate bill through her chamber before the House vote. Later, on the Senate floor, Ms. Stabenow said that lawmakers would have to spend August hammering out a broader bill, even though no formal conference committee has been convened to do so.
“I appreciate the first step and I certainly understand that the agriculture chairman in the House is trying to do whatever they can take that step,” Ms. Stabenow said, “but it does not cover every kind of disaster we have before us, and frankly does not cover disasters waiting to happen because of inaction.”
While no conference committee has been convened, and even though the drought relief bill differs wildly from the Senate-passed five-year farm bill, all of the drought relief provisions in the House bill are in that Senate package. So theoretically, you could go to conference on the five-year farm bill with these two packages to reconcile them.
House Speaker John Boehner acknowledged that he cannot get 218 votes for a farm bill, because conservatives want more cuts to the food stamp program, and liberals want less than the House version of the bill has now. The alternative is expiration, and a reversion back to obsolete 1940s-era food programs.
In the near term, livestock producers are in a fair bit of trouble. There won’t be any legislating for five weeks, so the programs to protect them from disaster won’t be renewed. I suppose the EPA could act unilaterally to drop renewable fuels requirements and put more corn on the market by temporarily stopping ethanol production, but a lot would have to break right. The most likely outcome is that livestock producers will have to kill off the animals they can no longer afford to feed, or find a cheaper source of feed.
Meanwhile, another consequence of the drought, the severe water shortage, could be alleviated by ending the practice of handing millions upon millions of gallons of water to the fracking industry. Fracking production is slowing in some places, as farmers hoard the water they control. But with all that money to be made from fracking, somehow I don’t think the gas industry will just put up with that.