By David Shepardson
Sen. Debbie Stabenow says she is optimistic Congress will pass disaster assistance for farmers facing a record drought if the House doesn't approve a farm bill.
The Lansing Democrat and chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee said she's been working during the congressional recess to try to get the House to act on farm reform legislation.
She was in Washington in meetings on the farm bill before coming to Charlotte, N.C., to take part in an event honoring female senators Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention.
"I am very hopeful that the House will act on the farm bill. If not, I am optimistic we'll get a disaster assistance bill through," Stabenow said in interview after speaking at a meeting of Michigan delegates.
Stabenow said she will take part in a rally Sept. 12 sponsored by farmers in Washington urging Congress to act called "Farm Bill Now."
The farm bill is crucial, Stabenow said, because it reforms farm programs and also pays for the disaster assistance through reforms.
In June, the Senate approved a new farm bill on a bipartisan 64-35 vote, but House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio has refused to take up the issue saying there aren't the votes for any bill.
With the exception of approving a bill to fund government operations, the House "has nothing of substance on their agenda for September. It seems to me it is pretty hard not to take up the number one issue for the rural economy."
She said 16 million jobs are in the agriculture economy. "Shame on (the House) if they don't," she said.
In early August, the Republican-controlled House approved emergency drought-relief assistance benefiting mainly ranchers and livestock producers, but the Senate insisted on aid to other groups, as well, including fruit growers, and didn't take up the bill before it went home for the August recess.
Most programs in the current farm bill expire Sept. 30.
Farmers in Michigan and elsewhere have been hard hit by the worst drought in nearly a half century with corn and fruit growers hardest hit.