After splitting along party lines on emergency spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on Thursday night, all five of Oklahoma’s members in the U.S. House voted for a separate emergency bill providing $3.5 billion in agricultural disaster relief.
Both bills were approved late Thursday and now go to the Senate. President Bush has vowed to veto the war spending bill.
On the ag relief bill, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, said, “Oklahomans have experienced numerous losses due to the recent wild fires, floods and tornadoes that have struck many portions of our state. This bill will open the door for those people who have been greatly affected by these natural disasters to seek assistance from the federal government.”
The bill will cover crop or livestock losses from either 2005, 2006 or 2007, if a farmer had crop insurance at the time and lost at least 35 percent of his or her crop; for livestock producers, eligibility depends on whether his or her county was part of a disaster declaration.
Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, was the only Oklahoma member to vote for the war spending bill, which divides the money into two installments _ one that would be provided immediately and another in July after Bush reports to Congress on progress made by the Iraqi government on several different fronts.
Boren, the only Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation, has been frustrated with what he sees as a lack of progress by Iraqis in taking control of their country, and he opposed Bush’s plan to add more troops this year. But he voted against a war spending bill last month _ eventually vetoed by the president _ that set timelines for troop withdrawals.
On Thursday, he was one of the conservative Democrats who had opposed the bill with timelines to support the new approach of giving the money in two installments to get the military through September.
Boren said, “The removal of the timeline for withdrawal addressed my concerns with the original bill. I remain opposed to setting a date for withdrawal because that would show our hand to our enemies. But this proposal uses benchmarks to measure progress rather than arbitrary timelines.
“Time is of the essence. We need to get this money to the troops in the field so they can continue their mission, and this bill does that. It also holds the Iraqi government accountable. It does this without imposing timelines that tie the hands of military commanders.”
Cole reacted strongly against the bill, which was supported by only two Republicans.
“No matter where you stand on the war, it is unconscionable to put our troops on life support until Congress decides to pull the plug,” Cole said. “Those are our sons and daughters over there _ they deserve to get the resources they need, and time is running out.”
The Senate isn’t expected to go along with the House approach, but it’s not clear what Democratic leaders on that side of the Capitol plan to do.
Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, is expected to propose an amendment to a water projects bill next week that would fund the wars through September without any strings attached. He would not include funding for farm relief.
Emergency spending, by the way, goes directly to the national debt. Combined, the war spending and farm relief bills top $100 billion.