WASHINGTON (AP) — Billions of dollars could be in the mail to farmers by the middle of October if Congress finishes work quickly on a spending bill that was stalled for more than a week.
The bill, which includes $8.7 billion in emergency farm relief, was cleared for final votes after Republican leaders forced it out of a House-Senate conference committee Thursday without a provision weakening the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba or any changes in new dairy-pricing rules.
Votes in the House and Senate could come today.
"It's a good amount of money that we ought to go with quickly," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
The bill offers $7.5 billion for growers hurt by a second year of low market prices, including $5.5 billion that would be paid to farmers who have "market transition" contracts with the government. The Agriculture Department said those checks could be sent to farmers within two weeks of the bill's being signed into law by President Clinton.
The bill also offers $1.2 billion for farmers who lost crops to drought and floods. Moving separately through Congress is $500 million for hurricane-related farm losses in North Carolina.
The conference committee stopped work on the bill last week after GOP leaders refused to let them consider the Cuba provision. The leadership then coaxed a majority of the panel's members to endorse the bill individually, securing the last two signatures Thursday afternoon.
The price of the committee's approval was a variety of special provisions for the lawmakers' home-state farmers: $125 million in subsidies for dairy producers, a requirement that meatpackers start reporting the prices they pay for cattle and hogs and a guarantee that livestock producers would get $200 million in drought aid.
Rep. Jack Kinston, R-Ga., said he signed the bill to keep Republican leaders from having to make additional concessions to Democrats. "They were all over me to get this out of the station," he said, referring to the leadership.
The bill was expected to meet some opposition in the House and Senate.
"You have people who are upset about what's not in the bill and you have people who are upset about what's in," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas.
Both Democrats and Republicans were angry that GOP leaders prevented the committee from meeting and voting on the Cuba measure, which had passed the Senate, 70-28.
"The process was manipulated," complained Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., the amendment's sponsor.
"Certain elements of the House are more concerned with continuing the Cold War than with helping our nation's farmers," said Jim Dornan, a spokesman for Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash. "But we will be back to fight this another day."
Some lawmakers from dairy states in the South and East wanted to use the must-pass spending bill to overturn a new nationwide milk-pricing system that was scheduled to take effect today. A federal judge on Tuesday postponed implementation of the plan.
Midwestern lawmakers, who support the new pricing system, persuaded GOP leaders to keep it out of the legislation.
The House Appropriations Committee may have eliminated some opposition to the bill by agreeing Thursday to put in another spending measure $508 million for crop and livestock losses in North Carolina due to Hurricane Floyd.
"This is just a down payment, but it will go a long way to meeting the staggering losses our farm families have suffered in the flood," said Rep. David Price, D-N.C.