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Agricultural News

Can We Get it Done? - House Ag Committee Chairman Talks 2012 Farm Bill With Ron Hays

Fri, 07 Sep 2012 17:20:03 CDT

Can We Get it Done? - House Ag Committee Chairman Talks 2012 Farm Bill With Ron Hays
With the political conventions behind us and Congress set to go back to Washington for eight legislative days before the end of September, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) has a lot on his mind. He spoke with Radio Oklahoma Network Farm Director Ron Hays about his game plan for the coming pre-election session and beyond.

"I am counting on my members coming back in from the countryside and explaining to the elected leadership, on both the majority and minority sides, that It's important that we have a comprehensive farm bill, that the certainty that a farm bill provides in drought years and in non-drought years is critically important. My concern is, though, I'm not seeing that kind of response.   The conversations I'm having with my colleagues, the interaction I'm having with folks across the country, I'm not seeing that fired up concern that will help drive this process."

Lucas said he's trying to remain optimistic, but, so far, there is no announced calendar for September. He says there is a tremendous amount of work that must be done for a comprehensive farm bill to finished before the current farm bill expires.

"We're in a position where I've got to still have floor time to take the House committee version of the farm bill across the floor, deal with the amendments, deal with the debate, deal with the votes, get it passed. Then I've got to go to conference with the Senate. They've already passed their version. Work out our differences-and there are substantial differences out there still. The Senate version of the farm bill right now has shallow loss revenue as its commodity safety net. That won't work for those of us in the South and the West. And that's why in the House draft version of the bill we have a choice between price protection and revenue protection. But I've got to sort through that. I've got to achieve a consensus number on the reforms in the nutrition title-that's where 80 percent of farm bill spending goes right now anyway. Is it the House's $16.5 billion number in savings or is it the Senate's $4 billion number? I've got to work all those differences out, then take the final product after it's been signed by the conferees, pass it across the House and Senate floors, and persuade the President to sign it. It's starting to become a very tall mountain to push a very large boulder up.

"But my goal is still a comprehensive farm bill in this legislative cycle."

Some members of Congress are calling for the passage of a stripped down, short-term extension of the current farm bill even if it is only for a few months. That would allow for some disaster relief and would push a comprehensive farm bill into the next Congressional session. Lucas said said he believes it would be even more difficult to pass such a short term farm bill. He said he is seeing more support for a one-year extension and, if that's all he can get, it may not be such a terrible idea. But even that is not a sure deal as some of his colleagues in the House and Senate are clamoring for reforms now. Lucas said his is not giving up on the 2012 Farm Bill and will keep pushing it forward.

Lucas said the difficulty in garnering support from other farm state legislators is that even with the drought, some producers have not yet been sufficiently impacted. He said high corn prices will generate large crop insurance checks for producers experiencing the drought. And, he said, high cattle prices are pacifying the livestock industry somewhat.

"Right now, the circumstances may be such that producers can survive. And maybe their bankers can stay with them. And maybe their suppliers can stay with them. But a farm bill is not about the next six months. A farm bill is about year three and four and five from now. That's why I'm so frantic about passing a new farm bill, establishing for five more years the safety net so that when the bottom falls out of demand or supply goes berserk or Mother Nature goes on a multi-year tear as we've seen in Oklahoma, that we have some way to keep rural America from collapsing."

There has been some talk that behind-the-scenes negotiations are being carried out between House and Senate ag leaders to do some direct conferencing to bridge differences before the House even votes on its version of the farm bill. Lucas said he is exploring all options, but there is no progress to be reported.

Lucas said there is so much that has to be packed into the next eight legislative days. The issue of a continuing resolution to fund government activities for the next six months is overshadowing the farm bill. He also said that looming tax hikes, sequestration, and the shredding of the defense budget are taking precedence as members head back to Washington.

"I'm afraid in the pecking order back east we may be far enough down the sheet, so to speak, that time will run out before we get the time we need to do our work."

Lucas said he is holding out some, but not much, hope that the farm bill would have better chances during a lame duck session. He said if the Republicans win the presidency and a majority of seats in the Senate, there may be little incentive for a Romney administration to work with the Congress as its currently constituted. On the other hand, if the Democrats win big, they may hold out for the next Congress to begin and not work with Lucas at this time.

Lucas said he is still hopeful that action will be taken when he returns to Washington, but that is tempered by the reality of the legislative process.

"Best case scenario is that we have a hurry up consideration of the House version of the farm bill on the floor with a closed rule, 20 or 30 amendments, we go straight to conference and I'm able to work out with my friends in the Senate our differences in the commodity tltle. That, perhaps, and it may require elected leadership in both the House and the Senate to work out the nutrition number, but that we get that done in a hurry.

"The worst case scenario is that we're not able to do the disaster assistance on livestock, that we can't pass a farm bill and, starting on September 30, various pieces of the farm bill begin to unwind. Now, some of my colleagues say that would take until next April or May to really, really hurt, but I would tell you that once Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall, the old nursery rhyme is right, it's hard to put him back together again."

Click on the LISTEN BAR below to hear the full interview. Frank Lucas will be Ron's guest on "In the Field" Saturday morning about 6:40 on News 9.


Ron Hays talks with Frank Lucas about the future of the 2012 Farm Bill.
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