WASHINGTON, June 19, 2013 – House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas was in good spirits as he chatted with reporters just off the House floor late Wednesday afternoon. And it didn’t hurt his optimism for final farm bill passage that the Speaker of the House jokingly threw in a few “kiss, kiss, kiss” air gestures as he passed by.
“He’s doing a great job,” Speaker John Boehner exclaimed as he breezed into the House chamber.
Indeed, it was a relatively good day for the Oklahoma lawmaker –especially given that he had started leading members of his committee through 103 farm bill amendments that the House Rules Committee had ruled in order for consideration. And one of the biggest threats to the commodity title that Lucas had carefully crafted with the support of many southern farm groups– an amendment offered by Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Gibbs – had already been withdrawn.
The Gibbs amendment- largely supported by corn and soybean interests and ruled in order by the Rules Committee - would set target or “reference” prices for all crops at 55 percent of the five year rolling Olympic average. The groups argue that the change will make the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) option more market-oriented.
Asked why the Gibbs amendment was withdrawn, Lucas carefully avoided any specifics.
“Let’s just say Mr. Gibbs is a wise and practical member. He knows that ultimately the final language will be put together in the conference committee. He understands maintaining a good rapport to still be a part of the process…..which is better than making the chairman mad.”
Indeed, some sources who asked not to be identified, told Agri-Pulse that Lucas was so angry that the Rules Committee had allowed Gibbs to offer his amendment that he asked Speaker Boehner to intervene. Other sources noted that Lucas firmly believes that Congressman Gibbs is off-base with his concerns about market distortion.
But a clearly frustrated Gibbs – who believes the current PLC program is not good farm or fiscal policy - did not want to reveal details of the conversation when Agri-Pulse caught up with him during the farm bill debate last night. Instead, he offered this statement:
“I worked with the Speaker’s office throughout this process. As you know, this is just one step and we still have two more steps after a farm bill passes the House,” Gibbs noted. “The withdrawal of my amendment was only decided after an agreement by the Chairman to work with the growing number of Republicans and Democrats that support changing the PLC program. You will see changes to target prices before this is all over, and everything I’ve done, and will do, has been directed at passing a long-term, equitable and market-oriented farm bill.”
After the amendment was withdrawn, Lucas promised that he will work with Rep. Gibbs in the conference committee to see enacted an “equitable and market-oriented farm bill”. But leaders from the American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Sunflower Association and U.S. Canola Association didn’t waste any time hiding their disappointment in their own statement.
“Our collective groups believe the Gibbs amendment would have received strong support on the House floor, and would have made the 2013 farm bill a better piece of legislation overall. As proponents of market-oriented farm policy, we are disappointed to see the amendment withdrawn and we thank Rep. Gibbs for his continued advocacy. We expect Chairman Lucas to respond to the farm policy concerns raised by the amendment during Conference on the farm bill, as he committed to do during his colloquy today with Rep. Gibbs. The final farm bill must be more equitable and market-oriented than the current Price Loss Coverage program in the House bill.”
Lucas also glided through another potentially troubling amendment, offered by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb. and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., which would have tied crop insurance eligibility to conservation compliance regulations.
Much to the disappointment of many conservation and environmental groups, Fortenberry quickly withdrew his amendment after Thompson – who faced strong opposition in recent days from fruit, vegetable and wine grape growers in his district – withdrew his support. Thompson also faced considerable pressure to withdraw from Lucas and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who both oppose the linkage between conservation compliance and crop insurance.
Farm bill debate continues today and, although most expect it to continue next week, Lucas was cautiously optimistic that he would finish Thursday.
For a report on resolution of the farm bill amendments thus far, go to:
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