The White House has pledged to provide $1.5 billion dollars in disaster assistance for farmers administratively. It's a promise made to Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., who removed the ag aid provision from the small business bill the Senate considered late last month. That's raising some eyebrows on Capitol Hill, among them House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas, R-Okla.
"By shifting administratively, that means trying to move money internally around between accounts, they want to spend $1.5 billion on ag disaster," Lucas said. "The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Collin Peterson says it just can't be done. The ranking member of the Ag Committee in the United States Senate, Saxby Chambliss, has lots of questions. I personally have not figured out exactly how they propose to do this."
Lucas says he believes USDA is even scrambling to figure out how this shift can legally be done.
"I know there have been funds transferred from this Section 32 account at different times in the last 20 years, but never to this magnitude, never quite in this fashion," Lucas said. "We'll see if the Department of Agriculture in D.C. can do what the White House wants them to do, but this is at this point an administrative decision, something they have to do internally if they want to help Senator Lincoln politically."
According to an analysis from the Environmental Working Group Lincoln's home state Arkansas will receive the most funding, some $210 million. Lucas notes his home state Oklahoma will reportedly receive more than $100 million dollars, which he admits would have a positive impact on the state, but says this isn't the way to go about securing funding.
"When you start rearranging by administrative edict how monies are handled at USDA, not doing through Congressional action, not doing it through the regular appropriation process, but when the White House chief of staff decides to help someone politically, that potentially sets a pretty frightening precedent."
Lincoln faces a tough re-election battle in November.