Food aid money in danger without farm law fix

Washington_The United States may not have enough money to send food aid abroad if Congress doesn't pass a new version of farm legislation in the next week.

The House and Senate easily overrode President Bush's veto of a $290 billion farm bill two weeks ago, but that final version was accidentally missing a 34-page section that extended international food aid programs.

The rest of the bill was enacted without that section, and supporters of the bill now are trying to fix the error and ward off possible legal challenges by re-passing the entire bill.

Two Republican senators, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint of South Carolina, have objected to Democratic attempts to pass the bill quickly by voice vote. They both opposed the bill and say they want the chance to vote against it again.

But Bush administration officials say that if Congress doesn't get its act together, people in foreign countries may not get needed aid in the midst of a growing global hunger crisis. The aid programs originally expired in September as part of the last farm law, and have been extended repeatedly since then.

The money is about to run out, said Stephen Driesler, deputy assistant administrator for legislative and public affairs for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

"If by this time next week we don't have a bill then we are going to start to see real problems," he said.

Driesler said some contracts, including hunger assistance for Ethiopia and Somalia, are already on hold until the section of the farm bill becomes law. Additional assistance for Myanmar, which suffered a devastating cyclone last month, also may be delayed.

He said the United States is now unprepared to deal with any sudden international crisis.

"If there is an emergency in the world tonight that requires immediate food assistance, our hands are tied," Driesler said.

A spokesman for DeMint said enacting only part of the farm law raises constitutional questions.

"If Congress wants to pass a massive new bill, members should be forced to make a public vote with the benefit of time for thoughtful review and debate," he said.

House and Senate parliamentarians said last month that the process was constitutional. But the missing section created a headache for bipartisan supporters of the bill who were otherwise celebrating their victory over Bush. He claimed the legislation was too expensive and too generous to wealthy farmers.

The House re-passed the entire bill last month and is waiting for the Senate to act.

Mary Clare Jalonik, AP Writer © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.