House leaders: Drought bill may come up next week

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By JIM ABRAMS, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A House Republican leader said Thursday that the House may take up legislation next week to help farmers and ranchers hit by the drought that has parched much of the nation.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said that in the final week before Congress leaves for a five-week summer recess the House may consider legislation related to "programs and disaster assistance under the expiring farm bill."

Earlier, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters, "I do believe that the House will address the livestock disaster program."

The two leaders offered few details of the legislation, but it is expected to focus on the livestock industry. Many corn and soybean farmers are partially shielded from drought damage by crop insurance but fewer livestock producers have insurance and the main federal disaster program for them expired last year.

The drought is driving up the costs of feed, forcing some livestock farmers to reduce their stocks earlier than planned.

Neither lawmaker discussed how to pay for a revived livestock disaster relief program.

Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, has estimated that it could cost $2.5 billion to institute a disaster program and enact a short-term extension of the current five-year farm bill, which expires at the end of September.

The Senate last month passed a $500 billion, five-year farm bill and the House Agriculture Committee this month approved a similar bill. Neither Boehner nor Cantor mentioned the possibility of the full House considering that legislation before the August break.

The GOP leaders have been reluctant to bring up the farm bill, which reauthorizes disaster relief programs, because of concerns it would be defeated.

Some House conservatives oppose the farm bill because of the federal subsidies provided to farmers and spending on the food stamp program, which makes up 80 percent of the $100 billion annual cost of the legislation. Democrats in turn are unhappy with plans to trim food stamp spending by 2 percent.

Cantor, in a floor discussion with the House's second-ranking Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, said the Senate farm bill, which has smaller cuts to the food stamp program, does not have majority support in the House. He asked Hoyer whether he would support the House version, and Hoyer said no.

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