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Conrad vows to continue fight for disaster aid bill

North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad says he will continue his fight for emergency disaster assistance legislation when Congress returns for a “lame duck” session following the Nov. 7 mid-term elections.

Conrad tried once again to pass a stripped-down version of the disaster bill he and other farm-state senators had authored just before the Senate recessed so members could return to the campaign trail.

“This fight is far from over,” Conrad said. “Getting assistance to our farmers and ranchers will be my top priority when Congress reconvenes.

“I am not going to let Congress and the White House look the other way. The livelihoods of thousands of family farmers are at stake.”

Conrad attempted to bring up the latest bill on Sept. 29, but Republican leaders blocked the effort. He and the 25 co-sponsors had elected to remove $1.6 billion in funding for a supplemental fixed payment aimed at offsetting the high fuel costs sparked by last year's hurricanes.

The modified bill was the third attempt this year by Conrad and Republican senators such as Conrad Burns of Montana to get a vote on agriculture disaster assistance. The first easily passed the Senate, but was stripped out of a spending bill by House Republicans after the White House threatened a veto. Since then, Republican leaders have prevented any other votes on ag disaster assistance.

The latest version of Conrad's disaster aid package contains $4.9 billion in assistance for producers who demonstrate yield losses of more than 35 percent, quality losses, and damage to livestock feed supplies in 2005 or 2006. It also provides payments for livestock losses.

Conrad promised to continue to fight for farmers and ranchers. Once Congress reconvenes, he plans to push for an agriculture disaster relief package in the fiscal 2007 agriculture appropriations bill.

“The White House and Congress continue to put this issue on the back burner. These family farmers need our help and they need it now,” said Conrad.

Besides Conrad, Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, all Democrats, have been working for passage of disaster assistance legislation.

House members led by Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, and John Barrow, D-Ga., have also been seeking signatures for a discharge petition that would force Republican leaders to bring similar legislation to the House floor. Several Texas Republican House members have also said they support such legislation.

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