With the support of U.S. Representative Chet Edwards and 22 other members of the Texas delegation, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 2207 last week, moving to provide $3.5 billion in emergency disaster funds for farmers and ranchers who have suffered severe losses due to devastating weather conditions.

Passing 302-120, the bill received bipartisan support despite a veto threat from the White House. To override a presidential veto, a two-thirds majority -or 290 votes- are needed in the House.

“Our farmers and ranchers have been hit hard by drought and extreme weather and America’s farm economy is in real danger if Congress does not act now,” said Edwards. “In emergency situations like this where natural disaster has caused widespread damage, the federal government has a responsibility to support our farmers and ranchers who are a vital part of America’s food and fiber economy.”

More than 70 percent of all U.S. counties have been declared primary or contiguous disaster areas by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Texas producers are among those suffering from some of the most severe drought losses - an estimated $2.6 billion in crop losses and $1.5 billion to the livestock industry.

A proponent of agricultural disaster aid, Edwards joined the then Democratic ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee in October of 2006 Collin Peterson of Minnesota at the Texas Farm Bureau headquarters in Waco to urge passage of an assistance package by the previous Congress, which never happened.

Today, Peterson is the chairman of Agriculture Committee and the new Congress has now acted twice to provide $3.5 billion in disaster assistance.

“The bottom line is that many farmers and ranchers and their communities, the backbone of America, are struggling and may not be able to stay in business without this disaster assistance,” said Edwards. “Congress and the administration should work together in good faith to do what is right for our farmers and ranchers.”

Some of the organizations that support the bill include the National Farmers Union, American Farm Bureau Federation, Agricultural Retailers Association, Independent Community Bankers of America, National Family Farm Coalition, National Farmers Organization, and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

Edwards is a member of the House Rural Working Group.

Edwards named to House-Senate budget conference committee

U.S. Representative Chet Edwards was named as one of the five House members who will meet with Senate leaders to write the final $2.9 trillion 2008 budget.

Edwards says the budget reaches balance by 2012; champions national defense, veterans, children's health care, education and embraces tax relief for middle-income Americans.

“It is vital that this Congress enact serious fiscal reforms to address our country’s $8.8 trillion national debt. That is why I am grateful that we have crafted a fiscally responsible budget that balances in 2012, fully funds the administration’s national defense request with $503 billion, improves our homeland security against nuclear terrorism and supports our military forces, veterans and their families with our deeds, not just our words,” said Edwards, a senior member of the House Budget Committee.

The House in January passed tough new pay as you go (PAYGO) rules that require new mandatory spending or tax cuts to be offset elsewhere in the budget to avoid increasing the deficit.

The PAYGO budget rules lapsed in 2002 after the previous congressional leadership refused to reauthorize them. Since 2002, the annual budget deficit has averaged over $300 billion annually while posting three of the largest deficits in American history in 2003, 2004, and 2005.

“Returning to the pay as you go budget rules that resulted in balanced budgets in the 1990s and a projected $5.6 trillion dollar budget surplus in 2001 is an important common sense step that will help lower the national debt burden on future generations,” said Edwards. “By ignoring proven PAYGO policies the last five years, the previous Congressional leadership recorded three of the largest deficits in American history and increased the national debt by $3 trillion since 2002.”

Working with House Budget committee chairman John Spratt of South Carolina, Edwards included a $6.6 billion increase in the VA discretionary budget over 2007.

“The $6.6 billion increase in VA budget is the largest annual increase in VA health care spending in the 77 year history of the Veterans Administration. Approximately $5.9 billion of that goes directly toward improving veterans’ health care,” said Edwards, chairman of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee. “Increased funding for veterans is a significant accomplishment, but this isn’t about dollars. It’s about fulfilling a moral obligation to those who have served and recognizing that supporting our veterans is a real cost of war, just as real as guns, tanks and bullets.”

“This budget responsibly funds the implementation of 9/11 recommendations such as increasing screening of cargo on passenger aircraft. We must do more to scan shipping containers destined for the United States while those containers are in foreign seaports. Why? Because we must stop nuclear terrorists long before their weapons would reach U.S. shores,” said Edwards.

The budget also provides $50 billion for the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), but that funding increase would have to be paid for by cuts in other lower priority programs.