Drought Relief Package Faces Congress

Dec. 10, 2007

(WTVM)- A new drought relief package could provide some major relief for Alabama farmers, but before that relief comes the bill will need some help from lawmakers in Washington.

The U.S. Congress is trying to pass a budget that includes drought relief before they adjorn for the holidays.

Many farmers say they feel trapped in the middle of a political tug-of-war between a Democratic congress and Republican president.

If the dust and cracked Earth doesn't tell the story enough, Alabama agriculture officials will say more.

The Alabama Department of Agriculture's Ronnie Murphy says, "We've experienced probably the worst drought that we've ever had in the history of the state of Alabama since we've been keeping records."

Congress authorized a drought relief plan last spring but it covered losses only until March 1st.

The bulk of the eligible farmers are in four states: Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina.

Now, Alabama Congressman Artur Davis and other Democrats are trying to tack on a new supplemental bill to add $600 million more in aid, but it's tied to the year end spending bill and the battle lines are drawn.

"The president has been waving his veto pen around all year, saying if Congress doesn't send me exactly what I want when I want it, I'm not going to compromise, I'm not going to bargain, I'm just going to veto it," Davis says.

The anvil Democrats are using to hammer the president against is the threat of a government shutdown.

Davis also faces a ticking clock to get the aid package in the final bill that would go to President Bush.

It must pass his own House, then the Senate, and Davis admits the upper house has its own plan in mind.

Many congressmen want to revamp the entire disaster aid structure for farmers.

Right now, farmers must appeal to Congress any time a problem arises.

Some say its time to create a permanent disaster fund that would end that cycle.