MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON Farm disaster aid cleared another hurdle in Congress on Thursday as a Senate committee approved more than $4 billion for farmers and ranchers who have suffered losses due to weather. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $122 billion measure that would finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and call on President Bush to pull combat troops out of Iraq by next spring. The disaster aid, which would go for crop and livestock assistance, was included in the original bill. Western and Midwestern members of Congress have been trying for more than a year to find a way to reimburse farmers for losses due to an ongoing drought, flooding and other disasters. House Republicans have opposed the idea, but Democrats who are now in charge supported it. The Senate bill, approved by a voice vote, is similar to one the House began debating Thursday. That legislation contains slightly less than $4 billion in agricultural assistance and a controversial provision that would require all combat troops to exit Iraq by next fall. The Senate provision on withdrawal is nonbinding. “I have confidence that we are going to have a disaster package to the president’s desk,” said North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, the Democrat who authored the disaster provision. “This is going to be welcome news for producers.” It is still unclear if the president will sign it. The White House has threatened to veto the House measure and issued a veto threat against an earlier, similar version of the Senate withdrawal language. Dorgan said the Pentagon will need the war money by the end of April so he is hoping that President Bush will agree to the legislation, including the disaster money. “This is all going to happen in a big hurry, now,” Dorgan said. Bush has said in the past that the proposed farm disaster aid was too expensive and unnecessary.