Many in Washington agree that producers in drought-stricken states should receive some sort of federal aid. However, the Bush Administration feels strongly that the aid must be found within the existing federal budget, and not be presented in the form of an emergency spending package.

At least that’s the message that Merlyn Carlson, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture received when he met with Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Chuck Connor, Bush’s special assistant on agriculture, to press for aid in the drought-stricken state. Carlson was in Washington to lobby for drought aid for the state. Current estimates put agricultural losses in the state at $687 million, with an overall economic impact from the drought estimated at $1.4 billion.

The administration suggests the money must be found in the new Farm Bill. Needless to say that stance has angered many.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., argues that the current drought conditions warrant emergency spending. The economic impact will be just as catastrophic as Hurricane Andrew was in Florida and the earthquakes were to California a few years ago. Both of those disasters drew emergency disaster aid, points out Daschle.

However, the Bush Administration does not admit that this severe drought should be treated like any other natural disaster.

Taking money out of the Farm Bill to pay for emergency disaster aid for farmers does not make sense, says Jay Carson, a spokesman for Daschle. It’s like telling a producer that taking money from one hand and putting it in his other hand will make things better. And finding other programs in the budget that can be trimmed won’t be any easier.

In the past, providing emergency disaster aid to producers has not been that difficult. However, this year things are different. The budget is tight due to an uncertain economy and the demands of funding needed for homeland security. And, Bush is reluctant to do more for agriculture since he just signed the new Farm Bill into law.

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), believes Congress will win the battle to pass some sort of drought aid package. Currently a dozen Western and Southeastern states have been hard hit by the drought. Estimates range from $5.1 billion to $7.5 billion will be needed to help producers recover from crop and livestock losses.

The Nebraska delegation has been building a coalition with congressmen from other drought-stricken states to try and find money for a drought-aid package. The goal is to win congressional approval before the August recess.

However, House Ag Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-Texas) has said he is reluctant to support an emergency drought package that requires additional federal spending. So it will take a battle to win congressional approval.

Omaha World Herald