These are tense days for the National Cotton Council. With the November elections looming, Congress has only a few working days left to complete action on a number of bills before its scheduled adjournment on Oct. 6.

Cotton Council leaders face the task of keeping the momentum going on such legislation as the fiscal 2001 agricultural appropriations bill while keeping out of the political crossfires of a tight presidential race.

At the top of their list: the opportunity to obtain more than $60 million in new funding for boll weevil eradication, money which would almost restore the 30 percent federal cost-sharing that was lost several years ago.

The $60 million-plus figure includes $59 million in emergency funding to help states deal with cost overruns. Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi added the money to the Senate-passed version of the ag appropriations bill.

The balance is a $3 million increase - again offered by Cochran - in the annual appropriation for U.S. Animal-Plant Health Inspection Service, which oversees the boll weevil eradication effort. The Senate version provides $19.7 million; the House-passed bill $17 million.

In a session prior to its board of directors' meeting Sept. 14, the NCC's Boll Weevil Action Committee developed a formula for allocating the $59 million among the states. But, officials said they preferred not to release the numbers until Congress passes the appropriations bill.

Council leaders are hopeful that a House-Senate conference committee will work out the differences between the two versions of the legislation; i.e., pass the one with the $62 million in added eradication funding.

But, no one was sure at presstime whether Congress would continue to work on the remaining appropriations bills separately or roll them into an omnibus spending bill to keep the government operating into the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

"If Congress is to pass a free-standing appropriations bill, the president has to send a letter to Congress asking for emergency spending authority for the $59 million," a Council staff member said. "So, we have to have a consensus within the cotton industry. That's why we needed to allocate the money."

Besides the boll weevil eradication program, the Cotton Council is keeping tabs on the fate of $450 million in disaster assistance, again in the agricultural appropriations bill.

"That $450 million is totally inadequate for the drought we have in the Southeast, the Delta and the Southwest," said Council President Bob McLendon during the board meeting. "We are hopeful that we can work on increasing that figure in the appropriations bill."

Most farmers in those regions are all too aware of the toll high temperatures and drought conditions have taken on their crops, but Council leaders and staff members say it may be difficult to convince Congress.

"There are some very concentrated droughts in specific areas of the Cotton Belt," said Mark Lange, the Council's chief economist. "But the aggregate numbers will mask the effect of the droughts."

Then, there's the legislation raising the payment limit on marketing loan gains from $75,000 to $150,000 and the 2001 funding for the cottonseed assistance program and the....