Referring to the $752 million drought assistance package for livestock producers unveiled by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman Thursday, Daschle said today that the funding is not nearly enough for ranchers and does nothing for row crop farmers.

“I welcome any assistance that gets direct aid into the hands of producers, which is why Tim Johnson and I have requested these funds on several occasions,” said Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota. (Johnson is the junior senator from that state.)

“However, I hope the Administration understands that this assistance is merely a drop in the bucket. Farmers and ranchers deserve more than a million-dollar solution to a $6-billion-problem. Unfortunately, the Bush administration continues to take a wholly inadequate, piecemeal approach to this drought.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cost of the disaster assistance legislation providing needed emergency assistance to farmers and ranchers would be nearly $6 billion.

Veneman announced the new livestock assistance program in a press conference with Reps. John Thune, R-S.D., Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, and Tom Osborne, R-Neb., and Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo. Thune and Johnson are locked in a tight race for Johnson’s senate seat.

Daschle said he would continue to urge the administration to support the bipartisan drought assistance amendment that passed in the Senate last week, 79-16. That amendment, he said, would provide comprehensive direct assistance to both farmers and ranchers across the country who have suffered significant losses from natural disasters.

“The administration announcement has a number of serious flaws: it provides nothing for farmers; some affected ranchers are ineligible for assistance; and eligible ranchers would be given only pennies on the dollar for their losses,” he said.

“The bipartisan amendment, passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, would provide assistance to every eligible farmer and rancher suffering from natural disasters. That is what USDA should be announcing they support. I sincerely hope that today’s announcement is not a political ploy intended to reduce the pressure on the House and White House to pass the drought assistance bill.”

In her press conference with Republican members of Congress, Veneman said she believed the Livestock Compensation Program she was announcing “goes a long way toward meeting the principals under which we think assistance needs to be given to farmers and ranchers.

“Particularly, we have said that the livestock producers do not have the risk management tools available to them, particularly through crop insurance as many crop producers do. The livestock producers are the most affected by this drought without any way to get assistance, and that’s why the program we’re announcing today is so important.”

Daschle accused the administration and the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives of dragging its feet on supporting immediate emergency natural disaster assistance for farmers and ranchers.

“The Administration has done so little to recognize the severity of this disaster,” Daschle said. “Farmers and ranchers need more than just a band-aid solution to this devastating problem. With the administration’s support, I am confident that the Senate-passed amendment would be supported by the House and signed into law very quickly. So far that has not happened.”

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