All eyes are on Washington as temporary spending measures and DACA hover at the top of our debates and news feeds, but one big task Congress has yet to tackle involves a long-stalled $81 billion disaster relief package that would benefit Texans rebuilding from Harvey, as well as aid victims of hurricanes Maria and Irma. Texas farmers demanding a cotton provision are one group that’s been delaying the bill.
Kevin Diaz, Washington correspondent for Hearst Papers in Texas including the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio-Express News, says the relief package has been in the works since November.
Diaz says a must-pass bill often receives odd add-ins, which is where cotton comes in. The unrelated farm bill provision would assure a subsidy to cotton farmers.
Cotton is Texas’s biggest cash crop, with a majority of cotton grown out west in Lubbock and Midland areas. While some South Texas cotton farms were affected by the storms, it’s the West Texas farms that are pushing to add cotton to the bill.
Gov. Greg Abbott supports the cotton provision, which makes sense, Diaz says, since Texas is the country’s leading cotton producer.
“He has been pushing this in letters to lawmakers, one in particular, that lays out the dire need – or as he sees it, the dire need to help out the cotton industry in Texas, but makes no mention whatever of the storm or of any kind of emergency resulting from weather, at least hurricanes,” Diaz says. “It certainly had nothing to do with Hurricane Harvey.”
Cotton farmers say it would keep their farms sustainable, but critics say the disaster relief fund isn’t the right place for the provision.
“This is a major change in U.S. farm policy,” Diaz says. “Normally those kinds of significant subsidy-type changes are done in what’s called a farm bill, which comes up every 3 or 4 years, and it’s a multiyear bill and it sets farm policy for the next time.”
But cotton farmers say they need to make planting decisions now and they can’t wait until later in the year.
The contents of the bill involve a lot of other moving parts. From immigration to government funding, the effects of delay caused by the cotton provision could come at the expense of other vital legislation.
“I don’t know if the cotton provision itself is going to block anything. It could. It’s not helping,” Diaz says. “And the fact that it’s becoming controversial in the Senate – as it wasn’t in the House – could make a difference. It could be dropped and then taken up later again in the farm bill that they do later in 2018. Or they could keep it in there because it is part of a piece of legislation that people on both sides of the aisle are very keen on getting done.”
Written by Elizabeth Ucles.