WASHINGTON, April 9, 2014 - Representative Frank Lucas says term limits may be ending his tenure as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee at the end of this term, but he says he’ll keep serving on the panel as long as he’s in Congress. Why?

“It’s my background,” the Oklahoma Republican said yesterday during the annual meeting of the North American Agricultural Journalists. “It’s my education, it’s my district, it’s my personality,” he added, saying he may end up seeking the chairmanship of a subcommittee.

While Lucas may be stepping down after a prolonged battle to forge the new farm bill, there is no shortage of lawmakers who want to take his place. And one of them, Mike Conaway, R.-Texas, showed up to answer questions yesterday from the farm journalists in Washington.

Conaway is currently chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Farm Commodities and Risk Management. One of his priorities if he succeeds Lucas, will be to reform the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which has been a favorite target of conservative budget hawks. 

“If I’m chairman, you can expect a rigorous review of all aspects of the program,” he said.

The committee should examine SNAP, previously known as food stamps, to see “what’s going right and what’s not,” while taking a look at alternative methods to provide a food safety net, including the state block grant program included in Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget.

“I’d like to focus on the policy, not the money,” Conaway said, noting that the program is authorized for the next five years.  “Is there a better way forward with respect to the safety net?” he asked. “It’s an important task for the committee over next couple years.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said he would consider a shot at the chairmanship, but made no commitments.

From the Democrat side of the committee, Rep. Collin Peterson, the panel’s ranking member, talked about his coming reelection campaign.  The Minnesotan said he is being targeted by the Republican National Committee as one of five Democratic representatives from districts won by Mitt Romney in the last presidential election. “[RNC] says we have to get rid of these people and I’m one of them.”

Regarding the long-term future of farm policy, Peterson suggested that the 2014 farm bill might be the last one ever. “It was a minor miracle we got it done this time, frankly,” Peterson said, adding that some of the new “safety net” programs in the legislation will be just as controversial – “once people figure them out” -- as the direct subsidy payments which the farm bill did away with. And what would happen without a new farm bill? Peterson surmised that the current legislation could be extended “for who knows how long.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, provided a rosier outlook, saying she is optimistic the coalition that ultimately supported the current farm bill will be sustained when Congress tries to forge the next one.

“The reason we’ll see another farm bill is because of the incredibly broad coalition we put together,” she said. Allies included traditional agricultural and conservation groups as well as the National Rifle Association, and environmental organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists. “We worked on developing a broad consensus around food policy and support for agriculture. I’m optimistic that the coalition can be sustained and help us pass the next farm bill.”


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