Senator Tom Coburn To Block Aid Bill For Drought-Stricken Farmers

Monday, December 4th 2006, 6:02 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A bill that would help drought-stricken farmers in Oklahoma and other states may not get a chance to be considered if Sen. Tom Coburn is successful in blocking it.

Coburn has said he plans to stop an attempt to approve $4.5 billion in agriculture disaster aid because he believes it is too large and would cover too many producers.

Supporters of the aid package haven't show how it will be paid for and they should've targeted those who weren't able to plant a crop, not for crop losses that could have been covered by federally subsidized insurance, Coburn, R-Okla. said.

"If we're going to do relief for the farmers, we can't say, `We'll take care of you and give the bill to your grandkids,"' Coburn told The Oklahoman's Washington bureau.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., pared his aid request to about $4.5 billion. Conrad is expected to offer his proposal as an amendment to the annual agriculture appropriations bill.

Coburn said he will try to block Conrad's package on a procedural move. If that doesn't work, he'll try to cut other parts of the bill.

Conrad has said his bill is intended to cover two years of flooding, drought and fires that ravaged crops in several states.

"This is not some outsized disaster assistance legislation; it is bare bones. ... We are down to $4.5 billion, as we have taken out things the White House said they would object to," he said. "We took out the energy provisions, for a savings of $1.8 billion. We stripped out some of the support for small businesses for a savings of $215 million."

Conrad said bankers in his state have warned that if farmers and ranchers aren't helped, 5 to 10 percent of them could go out of business.

In the House, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., is supporting a $3.3 billion aid package, which he said could mean the difference for producers who lost crops in 2005 and this year.

"In my home county (Roger Mills), the wheat crop was a total failure," Lucas said. Though the aid could be months after the losses were incurred, Lucas said that's not necessarily unusual for federal disaster aid and still could determine whether some producers survive.

"It never becomes irrelevant" whether they get the aid, he said, since the losses can affect their long-term viability.

Coburn said he didn't know how much of a disaster package he would support, and he is having staff members analyze losses and various factors involved, including crop insurance coverage.

"Why have a crop insurance program if you're not going to require them to buy it?" he asked. "Those that couldn't plant, we ought to help them, and we can help them. But we have to pay for it."