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HOUSE passes $5.5 billion in aid to farmers


WASHINGTON (AP) _ The House passed legislation Tuesday providing $5.5 billion in aid to farmers suffering under a continuing slump in commodity prices, but supporters said it isn't enough.

``A doubling of this amount could easily be utilized,'' said Rep. Charles Stenholm of Texas, ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee. ``This is all we can afford at the moment.''

The House sent the measure to the Senate on a voice vote, with lawmakers hoping to get a final package to the White House before the August congressional recess.

The aid, in the form of supplemental payments made under an existing ``market transition'' program, is to be distributed to farmers before Sept. 30.

The bill provides $4.6 billion in payments to grain and cotton farmers and another $900 million to growers of other crops, such as soybeans, peanuts, fruits and vegetables and tobacco. The legislation will mark the fourth straight year Congress has passed multibillion-dollar bailouts for America's farmers, which began in 1998 when sluggish exports and big crops triggered sharply falling prices.

The House Agriculture Committee chairman, Rep. Larry Combest, R-Texas, and other lawmakers had sought at least $1 billion more, but their effort failed amid resistance from the Bush administration. Combest said he would continue to push for more aid as the bill works its way toward final passage in July.

``We have hopes that additional dollars will be placed in this legislation,'' said Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.

The budget adopted by Congress set a ceiling of $5.5 billion in farm aid for this crop year and senior Bush administration officials said they would recommend a veto if a higher amount is passed. A White House position paper released Tuesday called the bill ``the maximum amount the administration believes is appropriate'' for fiscal 2001.

Congress could increase farm aid when lawmakers decide later this year whether to continue or change current free market-oriented farm programs, which expire in 2002. But some House members said that might be too late for many farmers.

``I fear that many producers in my state may face the reality that they may not make it to the next farm bill,'' said Rep. Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont.
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