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Political Play of the Week

Election season, and money rains on S. Dakota drought

President Bush speaks at the Mount Rushmore memorial in South Dakota in August. He didn't back emergency drought relief, which opened the floodgates to scores of more accommodating politicians.
President Bush speaks at the Mount Rushmore memorial in South Dakota in August. He didn't back emergency drought relief, which opened the floodgates to scores of more accommodating politicians.  


By Bill Schneider

(CNN) -- The highest profile Senate race in the country this year is in South Dakota. And the candidates' names are not even on the ballot.

In fact, one of the phantom candidates pulled off this week's political Play of the Week.

South Dakota farmers are suffering from a terrible drought -- of rain. Not of candidates.

The official candidates? Incumbent Democrat Tim Johnson and Republican John Thune.

But two proxy candidates are also aiming for victory in South Dakota: One GOP incumbent, President Bush, and one potential Democratic challenger in 2004, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

When President Bush visited South Dakota last month, he refused to back emergency drought relief, claiming it would bust the budget. Suck it up, the president seemed to tell South Dakotans, claiming, "A lot of our predecessors faced hardship, overcame those hardships, because we're Americans."

His opponent's response? Daschle said: "Let us respond with the same commitment and resolve in this drought as we would with any other natural disaster."

On Tuesday, Daschle made his move. "I move to waive the relevant portion of the budget act, and I ask for the yeas and nays."

Among the yeas were Democratic senators in tight re-election races in the farm belt: Tim Johnson in South Dakota, Paul Wellstone in Minnesota, Tom Harkin in Iowa and Jean Carnahan in Missouri.

Also among the yeas were Republican senators in tight re-election races: Wayne Allard in Colorado and Tim Hutchinson in Arkansas.

Altogether, 79 senators voted for $6 billion in drought relief -- enough to override a presidential veto if it passes the House. Two thirds of Republican senators voted for it.

Responding to those that questioned his motives, Daschle said, "If I just did it to help Democrats, I guess I am puzzled why so many Republicans would help us."

They weren't voting to help Democrats. They were voting to help themselves.

According to Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott: "Unfortunately, the vote that just occurred in the Senate was just a political statement."

Yes it was. It was the political Play of the Week.

Because of the drought, farm prices have gone up. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the government will save $5.6 billion it won't have to pay in farm subsidies.

Just about enough to cover the bill for emergency drought relief. Isn't that bizarre? A drought that pays for itself!



 
 
 
 


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