Emanuel throws $1.5B life preserver to farmers, aiding Lincoln

President Obama is looking to throw a life preserver to farmers in Arkansas and elsewhere with an administrative action worth $1.5 billion.

The action will help one of the Democrats’ most vulnerable Senate incumbents.

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White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has promised endangered Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) of Arkansas that the administration will help farmers in her state stay in business.

Emanuel called Lincoln on Thursday morning to tell her the administration would find $1.5 billion within its budget to help farmers in Arkansas and around the country who are coping with natural disasters.

Emanuel promised to provide the assistance administratively to get her to agree to delete $1.5 billion in disaster relief assistance for farmers from small-business legislation.

Emanuel’s intervention shows how closely the president and his senior aides are following the bill Democrats are trying to push through Congress.

A GOP senator told Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThe missed opportunity of JASTA States urged to bolster election security How the White House got rolled on the Saudi-9/11 bill MORE (D-Nev.) on Thursday that Republicans might drop a filibuster of the bill if he dropped the agriculture disaster assistance.

Emanuel stepped in to keep Lincoln, who is facing a tough reelection, from balking.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll from earlier this month showed Lincoln trailing her Republican challenger by 19 points.

The late maneuvering, however, was not enough to save the small-business bill from delay. Republicans voted in unison Thursday to block it.

But Lincoln came away a winner.

Emanuel’s promise ensures farmers in Arkansas will get help regardless of the fate of the small-business legislation. The GOP filibuster has forced Democrats to shelve the bill, at least for now.

Reid is expected to move on to an oil-disaster response and energy bill.

“I don’t forget who I represent,” said Lincoln. “I’m willing to stand up to my caucus and everybody else to remind them who I represent. And I do represent farmers.”

Lincoln insisted on inclusion of the $1.5 billion nationwide agricultural assistance program, which includes $50 million for farmers and ranchers. The funds will help farms stay in business while the Department of Agriculture fully implements disaster relief programs in the 2008 Farm Bill.

“I got a commitment from the administration that it can be done administratively and it will be,” she said of her chat with Emanuel, which took place before Reid pulled the funding Thursday morning.

Lincoln’s provision also included $300 million for specialty crop growers, $75 million for poultry farmers, $25 million for aquaculture and $42 million for cotton seed.

Senior White House officials worked closely with Senate Democratic leaders on Thursday.

David Axelrod, Obama’s top political advisor, attended the Senate Democratic lunch after the vote to advance small-business legislation failed.

It would raise the cap on Small Business Administration loan limits to increase lending by $5 billion within a year; it would establish a $30 billion small-business lending fund for community banks; it would allow small businesses to carry back business tax credits to offset tax burdens from the previous five years; and it would provide $900 million in grants to states to support small-business lending programs.