House and Senate leaders are writing a drought relief bill that would pay up to $100,000 on farm losses and try to help farmers and farm towns survive the credit crunch of a disastrous year, lawmakers said Friday.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he will try to get the bill through his committee as quickly as possible. Congressional aides said there may be an attempt for House and Senate passage before the end of next week."The important thing for people to remember is, we will not foreclose hope," Leahy said in a brief Senate speech in which he described attempts to write identical House and Senate bills. "We will give hope. And we will give a reason for tens of thousands of ranchers and farmers to stay in business."
Agriculture Secretary Richard Lyng said the proposal outlined on Capitol Hill "is not so far off from my thinking" but more study was needed before the administation would decide whether to back it.
"It's responsive. It needs a lot of flesh to be put on the bones," Lyng said.
According to a draft version of the legislation and interviews with staff workers who asked not to be identified, disaster payments to farmers would be based on a percentage - not yet set - of their losses. Steps would be taken to adjust payments to reflect any crop subsidy payments already given to farmers.
"There's a lot of details to be worked out. It's going to be a long weekend," said one Senate Agriculture Committee aide.
No cost estimates were available for the proposal. One staff worker said cost calculations would be made during the weekend.