Lucas tells stakeholders to target fringe lawmakers on farm bill

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, April 25, 2013 - House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., today urged agriculture groups and other stakeholders, who want a long-term farm bill, to put political pressure on lawmakers with little experience in agricultural policy.

In an interview with Agri-Pulse, Lucas said supporters need to reach out not only to lawmakers marshaling farm policy, but “those congressmen and congresswomen and senators who maybe don't live these issues on a day-to-day basis the way we do.”

Those lawmakers, he said, need to know that “this is not a throw away vote, not a free vote, it really does matter…to every member who has people who eat in their district.”

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“They have to help me with those folks in Congress who are not engaged,” Lucas said.

Lucas knows he has his work cut out for him. While passage of a bill in his committee is likely, getting it through the House is a different story, and ultimately conferencing the bill with whatever comes out the Senate will certainly be challenging.

Lucas recently proposed increasing the cuts from in last year's bill from $35 billion to $38 billion. The nutrition title would face $20 billion in reductions while the commodity and conservation programs would see an $18 billion cut. Lucas did not offer specifics about the level of cuts in the commodity title, but other sources confirmed that $13 billion would come from the commodity title and $5 billion from conservation.

“Many people would say that 80 percent of the bill is giving up $20 billion, and 20 percent is giving up $18 billion,” Lucas said. “But in the environment I'm in, it's amazing we achieved this equitable amount of savings.”

Typical battles over nutrition spending, dairy policy, crop insurance and spending for rural America are expected again in this latest effort to move a bill.

Lucas said the bill will move through his committee in an open process, noting that some 100 amendments were offered last year before the committee approved the bill on a 35-11 bipartisan vote.

Still, he acknowledged during the interview that there are at least 40 Republicans unwilling to support the bill on the House floor. Many Democrats may oppose the legislation as well.

“I still have to contend that my friends on the left don't want to spend any money on rural America and my friends on the right don't want to spend any money on anything for any occasion,” Lucas said. “Surely there are 218 people in the middle that care about consumers…who want to make sure we have safe, affordable food.”

Defending his proposal to cut $20 billion from nutrition programs, he said there will still be a safety net for those in need.

“I want to make sure everyone [who receives benefits] qualifies,” Lucas said. “I'm not going to take one calorie off the plate of a person who qualifies.”

Also, Lucas agreed that crop insurance will be under more attack on the floor this year.

“Everything [the] left and right can throw at us…We'll be punching bag for both sides,” he said.

Further, Lucas was asked his view on the American Farm Bureau Federation's recent proposal to include other commodities in the cotton industry's Stacked Income Protection program or a similar program.

“I'm very pleased the Farm Bureau chose to move more in the direction of what the House has done, their proposal is not what the House did, but it's a major move,” Lucas said. “I think it gives them more credibility as we work through the mark-up process."


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