MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON
Congressional efforts to provide billions of dollars in agricultural disaster aid were thwarted again Tuesday, leaving the issue to languish until Democrats take over both chambers in January. North Dakota Sens. Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, both Democrats, attempted to attach $4.8 billion in aid for struggling farmers to an agriculture spending bill. But Republicans objected to the provision as the White House issued a veto threat, saying it was too expensive. Supporters were not able to get the 60 votes necessary to overcome the objection. Supporters of the aid lost by three votes, a margin that Conrad said will be easy to overcome in the next Congress. Incoming Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada supports the proposal and several senators who were absent Tuesday back the aid, Conrad said. “This puts us in pretty good shape for next year,” he said. Farmers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming and several Midwestern states have been suffering from weather-related losses, including a drought that has hit many areas hard over the past few years. Members from those states have tried several times to move the aid, but have yet to overcome opposition from the White House and conservatives. Those objections will continue to be an obstacle next year, even in a Democratic Congress. Dorgan, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he will encourage members to include the money in the agriculture spending bill when it is reintroduced next session. The current bill, which includes $4 billion in aid, will expire at the end of the year. South Dakota senators said the need for aid is urgent. “The harvest season may have come to a close, but the crippling impact of a multiyear drought on our agriculture industry in South Dakota is far from over,” said Republican Sen. John Thune. “The need for real ag disaster relief in the heartland has only grown,” said Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson. Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman said the lack of Senate action is “incomprehensible.” “Congress has approved disaster assistance to Gulf state farmers, while Midwest farmers continue to get the cold shoulder,” he said. Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi, also a Republican, agreed. “The effects of this years-long drought are not as sudden or dramatic as a hurricane or a raging flood, but there are people suffering and losing their livelihoods in the West and they should get the same consideration and assistance those affected by other types of disasters in other parts of the country have received,” he said.