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Senate turns back bid to strip disaster funding from war bill

Senate leaders turned back an effort to strip more than $4 billion in disaster assistance funding from a $122-billion emergency supplemental appropriations bill that will provide $96 billion to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The leaders also called on President Bush not to veto the measure because it contains aid for farmers who have experienced losses due to weather in 2005, 2006 or early 2007. President Bush has said he will veto the supplemental bill if it includes funds for anything besides military spending.

The Senate defeated by a vote of 74-23 a motion by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to strip disaster provisions from the bill. The vote on March 28 came as the Senate was wrapping up action on the overall emergency spending measure.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said the vote on the Coburn amendment sends a “powerful signal” that urban and rural senators understand how important emergency assistance has become to family farmers and ranchers.

“It has been a long, hard fight but our farmers and ranchers are one step closer today to getting the assistance they need,” said Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

“The U.S. Senate cast a crucial vote today in support of farmers and ranchers who have lost their crops as a result of a weather disaster,” said Byron Dorgan, North Dakota's other Democratic senator. “It's now clear that we are going to get a farm disaster package to the president's desk. That is a big step forward.”

Besides the threat over the supplemental bill's disaster funding, the measure faces a veto because it sets a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. It requires withdrawal of an unspecified number of troops within 180 days of passage and sets a nonbinding goal of complete redeployment by March 2008.

The agriculture disaster package would provide $4.15 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.

Several figures — ranging from $3.7 billion to $4 billion to $4.15 billion — have been given for the House and Senate versions of the disaster package in recent days. A press release from Conrad and Dorgan's offices listed the total at $4.15 billion.

Dorgan, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, held a pep rally for the bill at the Capitol on March 27, calling on President Bush to drop his opposition to the disaster aid package.

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