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House Democrats push for disaster assistance

Several House members have scheduled a press conference today to demand the passage of disaster assistance legislation for farmers and ranchers who experienced weather-related losses in 2005 and 2006.

Rep. Colin Peterson, D-Minn., ranking minority member on the House Agriculture Committee, Rural Working Group Co-Chair Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., and Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., are expected to file a discharge petition that would require the House to debate and consider agriculture disaster assistance legislation.

Others scheduled to participate include Reps. Marion Berry and Mike Ross, both Arkansas Democrats. Berry introduced similar disaster legislation last fall, but it has not been voted on in the House.

“Assistance is desperately needed in areas of the country that have experienced devastating drought and other disasters,” the Democratic leaders said in a statement announcing the plans for the discharge petition.

The move also has the backing of more than 30 farm organizations that have decided to make the emergency legislation a priority for the remainder of this Congress.

The discharge petition on agriculture disaster assistance, H. Res. 998, would require the House to consider the legislation for disasters in 2005 and 2006 once 218 members of Congress have signed it.

The coalition of more than 30 farm and allied organizations includes the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, Independent Community Bankers of America, Farm Credit Council and others.

The House Democratic leadership sent a letter to the speaker of the house and House majority leader asking them to schedule time to consider agriculture disaster assistance legislation before Congress recesses at the end of September to campaign for the elections in November. But no action has been taken.

USDA has declared more than 60 percent of all U.S. counties primary or contiguous disaster areas this year, and last year, 80 percent of counties were primary or contiguous disaster areas.

“Farmers have waited long enough for relief, and our rural communities are counting on Congress to provide this desperately needed assistance,” said Peterson, who also has filed a disaster assistance bill.

Several House Republicans from Texas, including Reps. Randy Neugebauer, Mike Conaway and Henry Bonilla, chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, have also said they support disaster assistance legislation.

Neugebauer, Conaway and others participated in a press conference Sept. 14 to focus attention on the devastating impacts recent weather has had on Texas and U.S. agriculture. The group asked fellow members of Congress to act quickly to approve a comprehensive disaster aid package.

The Senate has passed disaster assistance bills twice, but House members of a conference committee have stripped the funding from the legislation after President Bush threatened to veto the measure.

The latest legislation, introduced by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., failed in the Senate Sept. 20 after Republican leaders said the legislation could not be brought to the Senate floor.

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