Progress Continues on 2012 Farm Bill, Lucas Cautiously Optimistic About Its ChancesWed, 27 Jun 2012 09:23:52 CDT
Work continues on the House version of the 2012 Farm Bill, and Congressman Frank Lucas took some time to speak with Ron Hays about the progress that has been made to date and how the process will continue.
Lucas says that he has had the opportunity to read the version recently passed in the Senate. He says there are major differences in approach between the Senate and House versions.
"They have a bill that is very focused on crop insurance. It is very heavy on the crop revenue side which my economists on the House Agriculture Committee assure me will be good for the folks in corn and bean country in the Midwest. They've got a bill that is very frugal in its savings on the nutrition side. They save about $4 billion through reforms. The nutrition programs are about 80 percent of all farm bill spending. They have a bill that imposes a variety of other things, some conservation requirements on crop insurance and things like that."
Lucas said he was happy the bill got passed by the Senate, "but we've got to have a more comprehensive bill. We've got to have a bill that achieves more savings across the board through reforms, not just the commodity title. We're going to have a different bill. I think it will be more balanced and more equitable. Thank goodness the Senate passed something so we'll now get our work done in the House and go to conference and have the ultimate farm bill."
He says the foundations of the two bills are very different.
"The revenue assurance program which is the most touted part of the Senate bill, the net effect will be keeping the best times the best. The House perspective is going to be that we have to give producers options that a safety net that really enables all regions and all commodity groups to participate is critically important to us."
Lucas says that the House version of the bill will contain target price provisions.
"Whether you want to call it target prices or reference prices or whatever the ultimate term is, yes. I think it's going to be a big part of the House bill. Now, we'll have a revenue option also. We'll have something for our corn and bean friends in the Midwest, by using a reference price concept or something similar to target prices. We'll provide that safety net for everybody else. That's just not only going to be a big part of the House bill, but it ultimately has to be an important part of the final bill where we ultimately work out our differences with the Senate."
Some conservative critics of the Senate's version of the farm bill said the $4 billion dollars in cuts to the nutrition program were not enough in light of the fact that spending on the nutrition title is nearly 80 percent of the bill's total price tag. The Senate bill identified $23 billion dollars in cuts to the bill overall.
Lucas says he hopes to do better at balancing that equation and hopes equalize cuts in the nutrition program and in the commodity title.
The Congressman also says he is a little uncomfortable with the conservation compliance amendment attached to the Senate bill by Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.
"I've always been a little hesitant about that because I believe the resources follow the production. And if crop insurance is something you're paying for as a producer to provide you with protection, then I have a little difficulty with attaching additional provisions on."
The Senate version had difficulty winning passage among southern Senators, with several voting against the bill. Lucas said the "no" votes did not come as a surprise, and he thought the House bill would address some of the difficulties the Southern Senators found in the bill.
"I don't blame folks in the Southern Plains or the South, for that matter, for voting "no" in the Senate- If you were Southern crops, if you were in the Southern Plains and you looked at that bill, you'd have to say, 'Why is it treating different regions in the fashion that it is?' I don't blame them. But now we have a second chance in the House to get a bill that is more balanced, more equitable, and hopefully, then, that spirit will carry into the conference committee with the United States Senate where the final, ultimate, bill will be put together later this year."
Lucas had hoped to tackle the House markup on the bill just as soon as it passed the Senate, but he pushed that date back when it was learned the leadership wanted to take up the Ag Appropriations bill first. Lucas did not want staffers having to deal with both bills at once, so he agreed to move the farm bill markup to July 11th.
"Wednesday, July 11th, it's all hands on deck in the House Agriculture Committee as we will begin and, hopefully, before the week is over, conclude the markup of the House version of the 2012 Farm Bill. And remember, that's not just the commodity title, that's the nutrition, the conservation, rural development, ag research, farm credit. It is a thousand potential pages of policy that affect every American consumer and every farmer and rancher and everybody who lives in or depends on rural America."
Lucas says he has hopes of moving the bill quickly through his committee and out onto the floor. He says he hopes the House leadership will bring the bill quickly before the full House.
"The first available floor moment in July would be wonderful, but I'll take any time they will give me. I just--once we've completed our work in committee-need that floor time."
He says it is possible there will be hundreds of amendments offered to the bill and says he hopes to work with the House Rules Committee to ensure all issues are addressed, but that amendments can be consolidated and kept to a manageable number.
Lucas says the bill has a long and torturous road yet to travel, but he is optimistic the bill can be completed relatively quickly.
"I am a wheat farmer by upbringing and by trade. When you put a crop in the ground, you expect a harvest. And I'm going to do everything in my power to get a farm bill done."
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