WASHINGTON -- The Senate removed the final hurdle yesterday for an $8.7 billion package of emergency disaster relief for farmers -- a package that lawmakers from Maryland and other Eastern states said slights their region.
By a vote of 79-20, the Senate blocked a filibuster attempt by the Eastern senators and cleared the way for a final vote today.
After Senate approval of the bill, which has been passed by the House, the measure will go to the White House. President Clinton is expected to sign it.
"Within 10 days of getting the bill signed by the president, this money can be sent out to the farmers of America," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican.
But Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, both Maryland Democrats, joined a bipartisan coalition from the region to complain that the disaster relief package was inadequate to meet the needs of farmers who lost crops and livestock feed during last summer's drought.
Nearly all the $8.7 billion will go to farmers in the Midwest to compensate them for the "economic disaster" of low commodity prices.
Only $1.2 billion is provided for natural disasters. Drought victims will have to compete for that money with farmers affected by Hurricane Floyd and other weather-related crop and livestock losses.
"A double whammy of low crop yields due to drought and low commodity prices have made this one of the worst years in history for farmers in Eastern States," Mikulski and Sarbanes wrote in a letter protesting the spending plan.
"With the additional burden of recent floods, many are being forced out of production entirely. This crisis has reached overwhelming proportions."
But as GOP congressional leaders are struggling to find the money to keep the government running without dipping into the Social Security surplus, the Senate decided it had done as much as it could for farmers -- for now.
Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota supported the bill, with its generous benefits for the Midwest. But he said he agreed that the Eastern states needed more disaster relief and pledged to try to find extra money in future spending bills:
"I've sadly come to the conclusion that what we've got to do is take what we can get now."
Pub Date: 10/13/99