Republican Congressman John Boozman on Friday accused the White House of trying to boost Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s re-election odds with a promise to fund a $1.5 billion disaster aid package for farmers.
Boozman, who is running against Lincoln in November, questioned whether the Obama administration has the authority to administratively fund the disaster aid package backed by Lincoln.
Lincoln, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has said she secured a commitment from the Obama administration to fund the package for farmers who lost crops in 2009 after it was taken out of a small business bill.
“It looks like they’re just trying to bail out somebody who’s in a difficult election by somehow coming up with money that there are real questions about whether they have the authority to do it,” Boozman told The Associated Press in an interview.
The White House did not immediately respond to Boozman’s comments. Lincoln on Friday released a letter she received from the Office of Management and Budget assuring her the aid package will be funded by the end of August.
“OMB and USDA are aware of existing authorities and are currently reviewing the most appropriate manner by which to provide such assistance,” Acting Deputy Director Robert L. Nabors II said in the letter dated Thursday. “We are currently evaluating options to ensure compliance with existing laws, ease of administration, and effectiveness of targeting the assistance to those in need.”
Boozman said he believes the aid should go through Congress.
“I don’t understand where the money is coming from and I think a lot of people would have questions about this,” he said.
Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, senior Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, also raised questions about the arrangement.
“Sen. Chambliss is aware of the commitment the chairman received from the White House but is interested to see where the funding comes from,” said Erin Hamm, a spokeswoman for Chambliss.
Lincoln has argued there is precedence to fund the aid administratively. To back up that claim, her office on Friday released a list of 19 programs that have been paid for using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s administrative funds since 1999.
“The administration’s authority has been clearly demonstrated and used in Republican and Democratic administrations for more than a decade,” Lincoln said.
Lincoln’s campaign accused Boozman of watching idly as Senate Republicans blocked the aid and noted that he voted against the package when it was included in a jobless aid bill approved by the House in May.
Lincoln, who announced she secured the funding last week, is considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents seeking re-election this year. She survived a bruising contest for the Democratic nomination earlier this year but is trailing Boozman in most polls.
Lincoln has been touting her work chairing the Agriculture Committee in her re-election bid.
The disaster aid deal has angered black lawmakers who have been seeking the same kind of arrangement for more than a year to pay for an unfunded, $1.2 billion settlement agreement between black farmers and USDA, only to be told no money was available. Lincoln on Thursday urged senators to support funding the settlement.
An advocacy group projected in a report issued Thursday that large farms would benefit disproportionately from Lincoln’s aid proposal. The Environmental Working Group projected that the largest share of the aid — $210 million — could go to Lincoln’s home state with 270 farms collecting more than $100,000 each in disaster subsidies.
Lincoln has denied larger farms would benefit disproportionately, saying the money will follow production.