BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) — House Speaker John Boehner visited a dusty California field on Wednesday, joining Central Valley Republicans to announce an emergency drought-relief bill to help farmers through what is certain to be a devastating year.
If passed, the bill that's already stirring controversy would temporarily halt restoration of the San Joaquin River designed to bring back the historic salmon flow, among other measures. Farmers want that water diverted to their crops.
Standing on the field just outside of Bakersfield, Boehner said that where he's from in Ohio, the logic applied in California regarding water policy would cause people to shake their heads.
"How you can favor fish over people is something people in my part of the world would never understand," Boehner said.
Without the emergency legislation, thousands of farmworkers will be unemployed, he said.
The bill is expected to be introduced in two weeks. It calls for allowing farmers to pump from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta as water permits and forms a House-Senate committee to tackle water troubles.
Boehner was joined by three Republican colleagues: Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Rep. David Valadao of Hanford. The announcement followed Gov. Jerry Brown's declaration on Friday that California is suffering from a drought.
Valadao said Boehner's visit draws the nation's attention to California's dry weather. In turn, each lawmaker railed on Senate Democrats for failing to negotiate with them. In a statement, Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein rejected the claim of inaction.
Restoration of the San Joaquin River has caused fierce battles spanning years that have pitted farmers in need of irrigation water against groups that wish to bring the salmon runs back to historic levels.