Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn says reports about his efforts to fund the disaster assistance portion of the emergency war supplemental spending bill in a “fiscally responsible manner” have been misconstrued as anti-farmer and rancher.

In a press release, the senator said the amendment he offered when the Senate initially considered the bill in March would have removed all non-emergency items, such as $30 million for salaries at the Farm Service Administration and $40 million for a Christmas tree assistance program, from the emergency spending bill.

The amendment also would have required the $3.7 billion in emergency funding be paid from existing U.S. Department of Agriculture funds that he claimed could have been made available for disaster assistance.

“My amendment did not kill emergency assistance for farmers and ranchers, and I'm disappointed at attempts to characterize it as such,” Coburn said. “Emergency spending bills go around the normal budget process and essentially amount to the Senate charging billions of dollars to a credit card which our children and grandchildren will have to repay.”

Coburn says the White House Office of Management and Budget estimates USDA has more than $7.4 billion in unspent money for fiscal 2007. The agency also reportedly lost $1.65 billion due to fraudulent payments by the Food Stamp program.

“We should responsibly help our farmers with needed aid and pay for it upfront without asking the next generation to pay it back with interest,” Coburn said.

The Coburn amendment, which was supported by fellow Oklahoman Jim Inhofe, was defeated 24-73.

The Senate vote on the disaster assistance amendment, which has now been pared down to $3.5 billion in a House-Senate conference committee, was the fourth attempt by Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Byron Dorgan, D-S.D., and others to pass disaster legislation in the last two years.

During those attempts, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and other Bush administration officials have said disaster funding should be offset by spending cuts in other programs.

The Senate passed the emergency war supplemental appropriations bill conference report with the disaster assistance bill on April 26, but President Bush has threatened to veto it because it sets a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.