Congressman Frank Lucas Says Lawmakers Must Ensure 'There's Still "Farm" in the Farm Bill'Wed, 28 Mar 2012 14:23:16 CDT
With a series of field hearings on the new farm bill halfway over, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas says his he has heard recurrent themes from producers all across the country. Crafting a bill embodying those themes won't be that difficult, he says, but crafting a bill that will pass muster in both houses of Congress is another story.
In an interview with Ron Hays, Chairman Lucas said there are a number of factors working in favor of the authors of the House Bill. Those factors include a near unanimity of producers on the main issues to be addressed by the bill, and the Senate's failure to pass a budget. The difficulties come, he says, from those who hold differing views on the underlying purpose of a farm bill.
"If we're going to have a farm bill it has to have two fundamental principles: It has to have 'farm' still in the Farm Bill. And with 75-nearly 80 percent of present farm bill spending in the existing farm bill in nutrition programs, you have to be very careful to make sure there's still farm in the farm bill. The other component, of course, is a farm bill that will work with, work for, will enable people in all commodity groups and across the country to participate in it. Once again, it's not a farm bill if farmers and ranchers can't participate in the whole country."
Lucas says crafting a bill with sufficient flexibility is certainly possible and, judging from what he's heard during field hearings across the country, what farmers and ranchers want even more is for the federal government to simply just get out of the way.
"One of the constant themes that came through there was their difficulty in dealing with the environmental regulations, the labor regulations, the stuff that the federal government is doing to make it more difficult to be a farmer or rancher. And the reason I find that so fascinating is that's the exact same comments I get in my town meetings in the 3rd District of Oklahoma. 'Uncle Sam is making it harder for us to practice our vocation, making it more difficult for us to feed our families and our fellow neighbor.' "
Lucas says he has been encouraged by the working relationship forged with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Members Roberts and Peterson, but the future of a farm bill will ultimately hinge on finances. The parliamentary relationship between the House and Senate is somewhat complicated due to the Senate's lack of a budget, but Lucas says that should work in favor of House committee members.
Changing budget targets concern Lucas. The deal he worked out with the Senate ag committee last fall envisioned $23 billion in cuts to the farm bill. He says he is concerned that the budget put forward by Congressman Paul Ryan calls for $32 billion in cuts over ten years, but he does support the budget.
"It's substantially more, of course, than what Senator Stabenow, Senator Roberts and Congressman Peterson and I had agreed on attempting to do last fall which was $23 billion, but the key here, I think, is that we have the flexibility that we need to be able to move resources around to make the decisions in the ag committee. I'll vote for Chairman Ryan's budget resolution when it comes up this week. There will be five or six alternatives that will do all sorts of dramatic and drastic things to ag and other areas, but what we have in this budget resolution will give us the ability to move forward."
With the final House field hearing not until April 20th, Lucas says his committee will be a little bit behind the Senate in crafting farm legislation and that, too, may work in his favor.
"I look forward to Senate Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Roberts taking up a farm bill in the Senate ag committee and passing it. And with the successful passage of the bill out of committee, that will actually kind of help generate some momentum over on the House side among, perhaps, members who are not on the ag committee who have not focused. So I say to the Senate, 'Go get 'em!' We're going to be there with you, but we're running a little behind you in the way the schedules work out."
Lucas says he expects his committee's field hearing coming up in Dodge City, Kansas, will have a decidedly "Oklahoma" flavor to it. He says producers in the two states have a lot in common and he thinks the hearing will represent their interests well.
Click on the LISTEN BAR below to hear all of Ron Hays' interview with Congressman Lucas.
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