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Ag chief: Congress must bolster drought relief

Associated Press Modified: August 3, 2012 at 4:45 pm •  Published: August 3, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Federal officials are using their limited options to help farmers facing widespread drought conditions, but they need Congress to pass legislation to provide better disaster relief, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday.

The House passed legislation Thursday to revive disaster relief programs for cattle and sheep producers affected by drought before lawmakers left for a five-week recess, but the Senate didn't act on the bill.

Vilsack is pushing for more, saying passage of a comprehensive five-year farm policy bill would have a deeper, longer-lasting effect.

The drought and the various types of aid available to farmers and ranchers were among the concerns Vilsack discussed with producers Friday while visiting the Ohio State Fair.

"The president has instructed us to do everything we can to help. Our tools are going to be used, but they're limited," Vilsack told The Associated Press by phone afterward. "We need quick passage of the farm bill by the House of Representatives."

The Senate has passed a version of the five-year bill, and a House committee approved similar legislation, but the House Republican leadership has resisted bringing it to the floor because of fears that conservative lawmakers might oppose spending levels in the bill. The head of the Senate Agricultural Committee, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has said informal talks would be held over the recess in an effort to produce a plan that could be offered to both chambers next month.

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