FarmPolicy

November 22, 2014

Chairman Lucas Discusses Farm Bill (Updated with Transcript)

Categories: Farm Bill

In an interview this morning with Doug Williams on K-101 radio (Woodward, Okla.), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) discussed several issues, including the current status of the Farm Bill.

In particular, Chairman Lucas noted the dust up over dairy policy between House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) and Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio).

Chairman Lucas also addressed issues associated with nutrition.

To listen to a portion of today’s K-101 interview, just click on the play button below.

A transcript of today’s discussion is also provided:

Mr. Williams: Third District Congressman Frank Lucas joining us on the Morning Show. Congressman Lucas, good morning.

Rep. Lucas: Hello, gentlemen.

Mr. Williams: Well, what Congress is this, the 113th?

Rep. Lucas: Yes, indeed.

Mr. Williams: I was just wondering will we be what, do you think, to the 125th by the time the farm bill actually gets decided?

Rep. Lucas: [Laughs.] I would like to think that I’ll live long enough, either physically or politically, to see it done.

Mr. Williams: I don’t know that we’re gonna be still doing the Morning Show. I mean, you… [Laughs.]

Rep. Lucas: In all fairness to our listeners, we are in a conference committee working out the difference with the Senate. We are close. [Laughs.] There are some issues like dairy that are tough. There are some issues like defining what an actively engaged farmer is, where there’s some differences of opinion between the House and the Senate. But we’re getting close.

Mr. Williams: Well, [what is it] Boehner said yesterday or the day before, and I didn’t understand what he was objecting to, does that have to do with the dairy side of the farm bill? What’s he upset about?

Rep. Lucas: Who was objecting?

Male: Speaker of the House Boehner.

Mr. Williams: Speaker of the House Boehner.

Rep. Lucas: That is kind of an important issue. There is a philosophical debate going on over what kind of dairy safety net we should have. Like most things in the farm bill, the direct payments all go away, so you have a focus on insurance. There’s some concern amongst my Ranking Member, the senior Democrat on the Ag Committee, who put the language together in conjunction with much of the Senate, that if you don’t have some kind of a safety valve in dairy insurance, that the wrong signal will be given, and if prices get cheap enough and the insurance program kicks in, that producers will still turn up production, and therefore you need to have a way, once the Treasury has so much exposure, to put a cap on how much production there can be that would be subject to this insurance program. Now that’s Mr. Peterson’s perspective.

Mr. Boehner, the Speaker of the U.S. House’s perspective is Uncle Sam should not have any control over production or supply of anything, so it’s a philosophical debate between the two. Peterson’s language was in the bill that came out of committee. Mr. Boehner led an effort to remove supply management. He didn’t take out the dairy insurance [as such], but he took out the supply management component. The Senate’s language has dairy with the supply management, and that’s what I’m trying to sort out now, is where my Speaker in the House has taken a very strong position and my Ranking Member has taken a very strong position. The problem is they’re looking in two different directions.

And the best way I can describe this to my neighbors back home is think of two old herd bulls that somehow manage up in the same pasture on a summer day, and after they pop heads about so many times, temperatures rise, the attitudes harden, and think of yourself going out to separate them. How you separate them without getting smashed between them is a real challenge, ‘cause I’ve gotta have—

Mr. Williams: Where does our—

Rep. Lucas: —a farm bill, and I’ve got to have a dairy component somehow in this farm bill.

Mr. Williams: Well, that’s my question. Where does our congressman, and the chairman of this congressional committee, come down on this subject?

Rep. Lucas: [Sighs]

Mr. Williams: Was I not supposed to ask that question?

Rep. Lucas: No, that’s a fair question, and I don’t have an answer yet.

Mr. Williams: Okay.

Rep. Lucas: And I’ve got to have something that I can get the conference committee to sign out on. By the same token, the Speaker has a little bit of control over whether legislation comes to the floor.

Mr. Williams: Well, sure he does.

Rep. Lucas: So if…I just have to have something where I can get them both sort of pointed in the same direction somehow.

Mr. Williams: Well, now, is the nutrition reform out altogether? Food stamps are not part of this farm bill.

Rep. Lucas: The food stamps are part of the farm bill. Remember in the House, when we couldn’t pass a traditional bill with everything, we had to break it into two halves. The Senate went ahead and passed a traditional type of a bill with food stamps, and production, and conservation, rural development, all those things together. So in conference committee we recombined, basically, the three bills, so there is a nutrition component.

There will be savings in the nutrition component. The main focus is LIHEAP, what some people call “heat ‘n eat,” a program where our friends in the Northeast use what I would describe as a loophole in the 1996 law to help…to get extra food stamp benefits to people in cold climates. What it amounts to in a couple of states, they will send out a one dollar check, and that triggers approximately—depending on what state you’re in—approximately a $300 food stamp benefit.

What we’ve said in the conference so far is no, states, you’ve got to put $20 skin in the game if you want to do this, you can’t do a dollar. CBO scores that in excess of about $8 billion in savings. So requirement of not taking anything off the plate of anyone who qualifies by income or assets met, but by the same token, we rein in a very abusive program, abusive to the U.S. taxpayer and the Treasury.
So the bottom line is, guys, there’s spending reductions everywhere. That’s how we achieve our overall savings. ‘Cause I’ve said down through the years—it’s bad to have to say down through the years—that no bill would pass the House, ultimately, that didn’t achieve spending reductions. And we do that in all parts of the bill—conservation, the commodity title, in nutrition. The key is if you’re going to spend less money, and you’re talking $25 billion, or in that general range, less money compared to the previous farm bill, how do you do it in a way that still provides a reasonable safety net, ‘cause we still have to make sure we raise the food and fiber.

But it’s been a challenge. It’s just been…it’s just been tough in this environment, ‘cause there again, as we’ve discussed before, you’ve got a very conservative House, you’ve got a very liberal President, you’ve got challenges over on the Senate side, and that’s the recipe for nothing to happen, so trying to make something happen entails overcoming a lot of things.

[End of Recording]

Keith Good

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