Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday drought-stricken farmers will need federal help -- including, potentially, a new farm bill -- to get relief from the 2012 summer scorch.
The Senate has passed a version of the farm bill, while the House Agriculture Committee recently approved a different version. It isn't clear if the House will take up the bill before August, or, if it does, whether a conference committee can recommend a final version to both houses before the November election.
But if drought relief gets tangled up in the bill, it will provoke some interesting questions for a few local lawmakers.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, for example, voted against the House farm bill in July. He was upset, he said, about the food stamp spending in the bill. "I voted ‘no’ as this is no longer a Farm Bill,” his release said.
If drought relief included in the farm bill is delayed, it could hurt hundreds of Huelskamp's constituents, who are experiencing a severe lack of rainfall.
Democrats are seeking to press the matter. In a release following a conference call Tuesday, Sen. Claire McCaskill said drought-stricken farmers would be hurt without a bill. "Many farmers in Missouri...are being caught in the efforts of a very, very, extreme group of folks who basically want to shut down the government," she said.
Missouri GOP Senate candidates Sarah Steelman and Todd Akin are believed to oppose at least the Senate version of the farm bill. When we asked John Brunner about the bill three weeks ago, he said he wanted to see the final version of the legislation before deciding how he would vote.
The drought might accelerate the debate over the farm legislation, which includes billions of dollars in insurance support for farmers.
But passage of the bill has usually been predicated on a rural-urban alliance. Urban lawmakers supported the farm price supports in exchange for rural votes for food stamps. If food stamp spending is significantly reduced, then support for the bill in the House may be difficult to find.
So it's possible drought politics could become entangled in deficit reduction, food stamp policy, and price support arguments.