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White House threatens veto of emergency spending bill

The White House says President Bush will veto the fiscal 2006 emergency supplemental appropriations bill the Senate passed because it contains funding for disaster assistance for farmers and other non-war and hurricane-related measures.

The threat of a veto, which would be the president's first, was contained in a Statement of Administration Policy that came out almost at the same time that a group of 25 farm organizations sent a letter to the Senate Agriculture and Appropriations Committees asking them to continue their support of the legislation.

The White House SAP commended Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., chairman and ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, for providing $92.2 billion to support the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and for hurricane relief and reconstruction and $2.3 billion in emergency funds for pandemic influenza preparedness.

“However, the Senate-reported bill substantially exceeds the president's request, primarily for items unrelated to the Global War on Terror and hurricane response,” the White House said. “The final version of the legislation must remain focused on addressing urgent national priorities while maintaining fiscal discipline.

“Accordingly, if the president is ultimately presented a bill that provides more than $92.2 billion, exclusive of funding for the president's plan to address pandemic influenza, he will veto the bill.”

The farm groups, which were unaware of the veto threat when they sent their letter to Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Tom Harkin, chairman and ranking member of the Agriculture Committee, and Cochran and Byrd, asked them to “oppose any efforts to delete the agricultural disaster assistance provisions from the supplemental appropriations bill.”

The groups noted that virtually every state felt the impact of significant weather problems and that 80 percent of U.S. counties were declared disaster or contiguous disaster counties in 2005 due to hurricanes, fires, floods, excessive moisture and severe drought.

“We appreciate recent supplemental assistance offered to help some victims of the 2005 hurricane season,” the groups said. “Unfortunately, this assistance is not available to all farmers and ranchers who suffered devastating losses due to hurricanes.

“Furthermore, none of the supplemental assistance is available to producers who suffered significant economic losses to crop and livestock operations as a result of fires, flooding, drought, excessive moisture and the record-high energy costs brought on by natural disasters.”

Organizations signing the letter include the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, Farm Credit Council, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council, National Farmers Union, National Sorghum Producers, USA Rice Federation and U.S. Rice Producers Association.

The supplemental bill passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee would provide $3.9 billion in disaster assistance to farmers who sustained crop losses due to natural events in 2005.

The bill also includes a 30-percent supplemental direct payment to all producers who received a 2005 direct payment from the farm bill.

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