May 16, 2006

Senators Urge Farmers to Rally Behind Aid Plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. farmers and ranchers should sign electronic petitions to support a Congressional proposal for $4 billion in agricultural disaster aid the White House has vowed to veto, a handful of senators said on Tuesday.

The Senate approved the aid as part of a $108.9 billion spending bill to help pay for the war in Iraq. But the White House has threatened a veto because of the disaster aid and $10 billion in other spending it does not want.

House and Senate negotiators still must write a final version of the bill.

Democratic Sens. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Mark Dayton of Minnesota urged producers to sign the on-line petition.

"We have a pretty stiff test ahead of us," Dorgan said, to keep the disaster aid in the spending bill and prevent a veto. "We're here to encourage farmers across the country (to sign the petition). This is important."

Lincoln said it was possible that negotiations over the final version of the bill would not begin until June.

"I don't know when conferees will meet," said Dorgan, one of the Senate negotiators. He suggested House Republicans were stalling as a prelude to trying to kill Senate-backed provisions.

The petition was available at Dorgan's Web site, and also on Dayton's site, Dorgan said he expected other senators would put the petition on their sites too.

Along with offering aid to producers on losses that exceed 35 percent, the bill would give grain, cotton and soybean growers a payment to offset rising energy prices.