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Facing certain defeat, Republicans pulled their one-year farm bill extension from the House docket late Tuesday in favor of a narrower $383 million disaster aid package to address the immediate needs of drought-stricken livestock producers.
The abrupt turnaround came just minutes before the House Rules Committee had been slated to take up the extension in anticipation of floor votes Wednesday. Within hours, the slimmer 22-page disaster bill had been filed with the promise of floor votes Thursday.
The action shows how much the GOP leadership - having boxed itself in by refusing to take up a five-year farm bill - is scrambling now to find something the party's candidates can take home to farm states in August given the severe drought plaguing much of the country.
The substitute will restore livestock indemnity and forage programs that have expired in the current farm program, with some assistance also for specialty crops.
To keep down costs, the aid will apply only to 2012, while offsets will come from imposing caps on two conservation programs much as the House Appropriations Committee has already proposed in its 2013 budget bill. Early estimates indicate the net savings would be about $256 million.
"My priority remains to get a five-year farm bill on the books and put those policies in place," said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.). "But the most pressing business before us is to provide disaster assistance to those producers impacted by the drought conditions who are currently exposed."
"The House is expected to consider a disaster assistance package on Thursday and I encourage my colleagues to support it. The challenges our farmers and ranchers are currently facing only underscores how important it is that we complete a five-year farm bill this year."