Chairman Lucas Tells Ag Groups Who Want New Farm Law- Urge Leadership to Provide Floor Time

From the Oklahoma Farm Report: Tue, 17 Jul 2012 03:55:01 CDT

Following last week’s passage of the 2012 farm bill out of the House Agriculture Committee, Chairman Frank Lucas has had a chance to digest the results of the vote and plan strategy to get the bill to the House floor.

He spoke with Ron Hays about how the process has progressed so far and how he thinks it will proceed from here.

Lucas said that following the debate that ran from Wednesday into the early hours Thursday, he was somewhat surprised with the final vote tally.

“I knew that Collin and I had agreed on a very balanced, responsible, reform-minded, fiscally-responsible bill. After 15 hours of markup, that was borne out. I’ll have to admit in a big picture sense I did not expect a 35 to 11 vote. That’s an overwhelming vote of both Republicans and Democrats in a very bipartisan way.”

Lucas said the results were surprising because the base text of the bill survived the markup process essentially unchanged. The $35 billion dollars in proposed cuts all survived, including $14 billion dollars from the commodity title, $6 billion from the conservation title, and $16.5 billion from the nutrition title.

“It can’t be said that my colleagues didn’t have some good ideas-109 amendments were filed. Ninety-seven members asked to have their amendments considered. We adopted 44 of those amendments in a variety of areas. It was just a tremendous process.”

The most lively debate of the 15-hour marathon surrounded the dairy and sugar language in the bill. Once again, Lucas said, the base bill prevailed.

The debate on the nutrition title also surprised Lucas in that efforts to strip out the entire $16.5 billion in savings failed, but so did an effort by conservative Republicans to double the cuts and increase the bill’s savings. Once again, the base language prevailed.

“I think we’ve got a good, workable bill and I won’t deny for a moment that 35-to-11 vote which surprised many people, myself included, represented the traditional bipartisan spirit of the agriculture committee that when it’s time to craft national farm policy, comprehensive farm policy, we still will work our way to a point where we can work together in an overwhelming way. And 35 to 11 is an overwhelming margin, especially in the body I work in today.”

The contentious debate on the nutrition title seemed to mark a turning point in the bill’s fate, Lucas said.

“That was a critical moment because we made the case, my ranking member Mr. Peterson, myself, and a number of my colleagues-especially on the Republican side, that the reforms that were encompassed in saving $16.5 billion were things essentially like ending categorical eligibility, requiring, in essence, that every person in this country who needs food stamps, who would qualify for food stamps, to actually go in and demonstrate that their income level, their asset level, made them eligible. Under the present federal law which has existed since, apparently, 1996, there are a number of areas whereby if you receive some other federal assistance or if you’re receiving information, or if you’re getting a one-dollar home heating oil check for instance in the Northeast, then you automatically qualify for the full food stamp benefit.

“The times we operate in now are economically challenging, they’re fiscally difficult. I think the committee had an obligation not only to every taxpayer who pays for all of these programs, but also the people that deserve them to make sure the food stamp, the SNAP program, however you want to describe it, goes to those people who are actually eligible and qualified to receive the benefit. That’s not unreasonable. That’s factoring in both the taxpayer point of view and directing the resources to people who really deserve it and qualify for it.

“That was the turning point. From then on we worked on a number of amendments, but we were on the downhill coast from there.”

From here, Lucas said, getting the bill to the floor is up to the House leadership. He said he’s doing everything he can to garner the bill a hearing just as quickly as possible, but he realizes the leadership has other priorities at the moment.

“We’ve demonstrated a comprehensive bill. We’ve demonstrated a bill that saves $35 billion in real savings… We need the bill to be heard on the floor so we can proceed to conference and work out the ultimate bill with the Senate which is different than the House bill in time to address that.

“I am encouraging leadership in every capacity I can. I would hope that the ag community-both production and processing and even the consumer groups around the country-would begin to remind the elected leadership in the House that this is important.”

Lucas said that even if everything goes well, if he can get a bill passed on the floor and into conference committee by September 1st, that an extension of the current farm bill ranging anywhere from a few months to a year are more is likely as implementing regulations are being written and disseminated.


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