After refusing to consider a five-year farm policy measure, House Republicans on Thursday jammed through a last-minute, short-term $383 million package of loans and grants for some livestock producers and farmers who are suffering from the effects of a protracted, widespread drought.
The measure passed 223 to 197, a tight margin for a bill that affects so many states. But Democratic leaders in the Senate, which has already passed a bipartisan five-year bill, said they were not inclined to rush through the House measure, blaming Republican House leaders for failing to consider the broader legislation in time. The end result was that Congress could end up taking no action to provide drought aid before breaking for five weeks.
"I'm not passing a bill that only covers some producers," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
The Minnesota delegation voted largely along party lines with a couple of exceptions. Michelle Bachmann, R, crossed over to vote no and Collin Peterson, D, voted yes.
Lawmakers in states with large agriculture industries must now face farmers, ranchers and producers who are clamoring for a farm bill to extend programs that begin expiring next month. The relief bill seeks to continue programs that have already expired, ones that protect livestock and forage programs and provide some assistance to a handful of other crops, paid for by placing caps on conservation programs in the current farm program.
Without the aid, livestock producers will now have no government safety net program to aid them in their losses from the rising cost of feed because of the drought.
A cybersecurity bill that had been one of the Obama administration's top national security priorities was blocked by a Republican filibuster in the Senate on Thursday, limiting its prospects this year.
The Senate voted 52-46 to cut off debate, falling eight votes short of the 60 needed to force a final vote on the measure, which had bipartisan support but ran into a fight over what amendments could be proposed to the legislation. The bill would have established optional standards for the computer systems that oversee the country's critical infrastructure, like power grids, dams and transportation.
The Senate's tax-writing panel voted to renew dozens of tax breaks for businesses like biodiesel and wind energy producers, even as the GOP-controlled House passed symbolic legislation to erase them and create a new tax code with lower rates and fewer special interest tax breaks. The $200 billion-plus package was anchored by a two-year provision to protect middle- and upper-income taxpayers from being hit by the alternative minimum tax, shielding them from higher levies originally meant to prevent the rich from escaping taxes altogether. The bill faces an uncertain future.