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Will fourth time be the charm for disaster bill?

If at first you don't succeed try, try again. I haven't checked lately, but I suspect that if you look at Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, there's a photo of Sen. Kent Conrad next to the listing for that old saying.

That's because the senator from North Dakota has once again introduced legislation to provide assistance to farmers and ranchers who have suffered income losses due to droughts, floods and other weather disasters in the last two years.

The legislation, the 2007 Emergency Farm Relief Act, is a bipartisan bill effort to help farm families across the nation recover from losses to natural disasters including recent blizzards that have wreaked havoc on the Plains States. The bill has 12 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.

Republican and Democratic members of the House, including Reps. Marion Berry, D-Ark., Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, have also said they support similar legislation in the lower chamber.

“For over a year, I, along with many Senate colleagues, have been fighting to pass disaster assistance for our farmers,” said Conrad, a Democrat. “But there continues to be a roadblock at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This administration has done everything in its power to keep federal aid from America's farmers.”

The new disaster package incorporates many of the provisions previously approved by the Senate, but has been modified to satisfy the Bush administration's objections to providing assistance to farmers hurt by rising energy prices.

Conrad has introduced legislation for the 2005 and 2006 disasters on three different occasions, including an attempt to amend the fiscal year 2007 agricultural appropriations bill last November and December.

He fell three votes short on what would have been a symbolic vote on the amendment just before the 209th Congress adjourned. Rather than passing a stand-alone ag appropriations bill, congressional leaders voted to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government operating into January. The latter could not be amended.

Natural disasters

“All across the nation, farmers and ranchers have faced severe cycles of natural disasters over the past two years,” Conrad said in a press release that accompanied the introduction of the latest bill. “In North Dakota alone, floods in 2005 and severe drought in 2006 resulted in millions of acres of crops being destroyed.”

Sen. Conrad's bill would provide $4.4 billion in emergency funding to farmers and ranchers who have suffered weather-related crop production shortfalls, quality losses and damage to livestock feed supplies. It will also provide payments for the loss of livestock.

Co-sponsors include Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Norm Coleman, R-Minn., Ben Nelson, D-Neb, John Thune, R-S.D., Max Baucus, D-Mont., Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Ken Salazar, D-Colo., Mary Landrieu, D-La., Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and John Tester, D-Mont.

Klobuchar and Tester are new members of the Senate.

“Family farmers and ranchers have waited far too long for some relief from the weather-related disasters they've faced over the last two years, and Sen. Conrad and I aren't going to stop pushing for this disaster assistance,” said Dorgan.

“This country answers the call when people around the world are in trouble, and I support that, but we also need to stand up and help our producers here at home when they're hit by devastating floods and drought.”

“Our farm and ranch families face a desperate situation,” Senator Conrad said. “If these emergencies are not dealt with, tens of thousands of farm families will be forced off the land.”

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