Several Avenues Open to Farm Bill Passage, Lucas Says, If Leaders Are WillingThu, 29 Nov 2012 12:39:05 CST
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas had a meeting scheduled today with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack- as well as the other members of the House and Senate Ag Leadership. He spent several minutes with Radio Oklahoma Farm Director Ron Hays talking about how a farm bill deal can still be done. Lucas said it would most likely be accomplished as part of an offset deal as President Obama tries to come to terms with the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, in designing a grand plan to avert the federal government from falling over the edge of the so-called “fiscal cliff.”
Lucas’s meeting comes one day after he was re-elected chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. He said he appreciates his colleagues’ confidence in his leadership, but the task before him is immense.
“I will admit being chairman in a time when we’re writing a farm bill is always daunting as I’ve observed in my tenure in Congress. But in a time of writing a farm bill with these kinds of national deficits and this kind of national debt, it makes this almost more fun than I can stand, but we’re going to get her done. And I appreciate my colleagues in the United States House giving me a chance to finish the job.”
Lucas said his goal is to get the farm bill done as part of the House’s regular order of business before the end of the year, but with the days slipping away and with lawmakers’ focus intensifying on the “fiscal cliff,” there may be other opportunities for the farm bill to be passed.
“Right now, with what many of the pundits refer to as the fiscal cliff, the increases in tax rates for everybody that’s coming on the last day of this year, with the dramatic spending cuts coming in sequestration-disproportionately that will affect the Department of Defense-literally there’s not enough political oxygen, it seems, left in this town for anybody to do anything but focus on that fiscal cliff issue. So, in all fairness, while the candle has not gone out completely, it’s flickering rather dimly.”
Lucas says that he’s not sure that the administration is ready to deal with what would happen if the old farm bill expires at the end of the year, however, without a new one in place. One example is that the 1949 dairy law would have to be re-implemented, and the USDA, at this point, doesn’t seem to be prepared to comply.
“Something has to happen in dairy policy in the next month. We cannot go back to the ’49 law.”
Lucas said he will address that issue today in his meeting with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“I think it will be fascinating to get a report from the secretary on how they’re preparing to implement the ’49 law because I don’t think it’s actually possible to implement the ’49 law.”
Lucas said the sheer enormity of what the country faces at the end of the year is overshadowing everything, and it is important to keep in mind what needs to be done for the good of his constituents and all farmers and ranchers countrywide while not allowing anything to slip through the cracks. Either the passage of the full farm bill before the end of the year or the extension of the current bill as a bridge are both workable scenarios, Lucas said.
“Even if we could work out all the understandings, if we could put everything together-whether you have a complete bill in a part of some giant, final package that addresses taxes and cuts, sequestration as they call it here, by the end of the year-even if you could do all of that, there is time required when you shift away from direct payments in the safety net over to revenue insurance as the Senate bill calls for or as the House bill calls for revenue insurance with a price-insurance option. Making that bold change from one safety net to the other, I can’t in good faith look my folks in Oklahoma and across the country and say, ‘Well, the way it’s worked out is your safety net ended on September 30th, 2012 and we’ll get the new safety net up and going by October 1 of 2013, but for the next year, you’re flying economically naked.’ I can’t do that.
“So, even if we work everything out, you’re talking about-whether you want to call it an extension of existing law or a transition period to the new bill-I’ve got to have some protection for my folks out there in the countryside. And extending the ’08 language until the next bill kicks in, seems to me, only a reasonable, rational thing.”
Lucas said that he reiterated to his colleagues the grave importance of getting farm policy right. He said the new Ken Burns documentary on the Dust Bowl is an example of what happens with farm policy gone wrong. With the weather anomalies of the last few years, Lucas said, farmers don’t have the leeway to weather bad farm policy from Washington.
“I’m very sensitive about the things we can’t control-the weather-but also the things we do control that when they’re messed up, as farm policy was in the ‘20s and ‘30s, as it was in the late ‘70s going into the early ‘80s, my folks, my neighbors, my fellow farmers across the country, pay a huge price. So, understand, I come at this from a farmer’s perspective. I want a five-year farm bill. But even if I’m able to work out with my colleagues the best farm bill in the world, I’ve still got to have a transition period to get to that. I just ask everyone to show some flexibility as we slug our way through these challenges.”
Lucas said there is the very real possibility of getting the farm bill inserted into a compromise package to address the fiscal cliff. It would require additional work in the spring to adjust budgets based on any cost-saving targets called for in the deal, but he believes that could be workable. He also said the bill could be expedited before the end of the year which would limit the number of amendments that could be offered to it, preserving it largely in the form it is in now.
“I cannot, at this juncture, predict what’s going to happen, but I just know the magnitude of the effect of the tax increases that will hit everybody on January 1, the magnitude of cutting almost 10 percent of the Defense Department budget in the automatic cuts. The magnitude of those issues is so massive-as in something has to happen-that if we can achieve 35 billion dollars in savings in the farm bill, somebody needs us. And if they want our savings, they have to give us a process to complete our farm bill work. That’s the polite message I’ve been delivering to all the decision-makers here in the nation’s capitol now for weeks.”
Click on the LISTEN BAR below for the Ron Hays’s full interview with Frank Lucas.
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