The rival parties fail to pass even a scaled-down stopgap measure before the August recess.
Even as the drought worsened in the Midwest and Great Plains, Congress proved unable to provide relief for farmers and ranchers before leaving for a month of campaigning.
The House on Thursday approved a scaled-down $383-million package primarily to help ranchers whose livestock losses and feed costs are mounting as arid conditions make land unusable for grazing. But the Senate declined to consider the bill before recessing, preferring a broader bipartisan measure that it passed overwhelmingly last month.
The vote in the House was 223 to 197, with 35 mostly farm-state Democrats joining Republicans in support. Most Democrats held out for the broader bill.
"This House should not go home while literally hanging our ranchers out to dry without a safety net to get through this drought," said freshman Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), who is from a ranching family.
Democrats, who control the Senate, prefer the broader farm bill, which would provide more robust drought relief to other agricultural sectors. Democrats also object to the GOP’s plan to offset the costs by cutting conservation funds.
"It’s deeply troubling that the House would leave farmers and small businesses in the lurch," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. "House leadership is doing what Congress always does — kicking the can down the road instead of coming together to solve problems."
The National Drought Mitigation Center said Thursday that arid conditions continued to intensify in Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced new aid for farmers and ranchers earlier this week. More than half the nation’s counties have federal disaster designations, largely because of drought.
"It’s hard to believe that it’s getting worse, but it is, even with some rain in the region," said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.