On Farm Bill, Frank Lucas says one thing is certain: “We’ll spend less”
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Published: 19-Apr-2012

According to U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas of Cheyenne, “The only thing that is certain about the Farm Bill is that the present one expires at the end of September. So, we either have to extend the present bill or write a new Farm Bill.”

In an interview with CapitolBeatOK, the Republican from Oklahoma’s Third Congressional District asserted, “Writing a new Farm Bill means that we’ll spend less, because in the United States House of Representatives this time, we’re going to spend less on everything. That’s just a given.

“With the budgetary problems that we have – the trillion annual dollar deficits, the $15 trillion national debt – we’re going to spend less. So, it’s how much less?

“How do you come up with a bill that spends less and still provides the kind of Farm Bill that everyone across the country, and in all commodity groups, can participate in? 

“Sometimes, people forget that this Farm Bill has, over time, evolved to the point where 75 percent of all Farm Bill spending, over the last five-year period, will go to social nutrition programs.

“That leaves the rest for conservation, rural development, commodity title and farm credit. That’s a pretty small slice. So, actually, in some ways it might be even better to describe it as a feeding bill that just happens to raise food.” 

Now the “dean” of the Oklahoma congressional delegation (he was first elected in spring of 1994), Lucas continued, “having a conservative United States House, by the definition of the Third District of Oklahoma, a liberal president and a United States Senate – where, under Harry Reid, basically no one is in control – it’s hard to make anything legislatively happen. 

“But, I’m working very hard across the aisle in the House, and across-Chamber to craft another comprehensive five year Farm Bill.”

Bi-partisan policy making seems to be under stress and strain in every aspect of work in Congress, yet it is a long-standing tradition in Agricultural policy. Asked about the approach the panel has taken under his chairmanship (which began when Republicans regained control of the U.S. House in 2010), Lucas reflected, “Up until this point, I would say that we’ve done amazingly well.”

He recounted, “In the Super Committee process, reaching across the aisle on the Ag side in the House and in the Senate, we came to an agreement on a bill that would in effect have been a five-year farm bill, with $23 billion in cuts. 

“No other committee, not even the Super Committee themselves, could agree on anything. The Ag Committees in the House and Senate did our work in a bipartisan way. But alas, the Super Committee process failed, so we start all over again.”

Lucas continued, “Under the Ryan budget resolution, we’re obligated to come up $33 billion in existing savings, over the next month, in present Farm Bill spending. That’s going to be a tough lift, and it’s going to be hard on comity in the Committee, but we’ll do it. 

“Then, we’ll begin to parse the process of crafting a Farm Bill. Ultimately, as I’ve said all along, we’ll spend less, but it’s still going to be a comprehensive Farm Bill. We can get it done, it’s just going to be really, really tough to do.

Switching from commodity pricing issues, CapitolBeatOK asked about the upstream flood control dam “ rehab” program, part of the Conservation Title in the Farm bill. 

Lucas  explained, “it’s a relatively small portion, but .. a basic infrastructure element inside the Farm Bill.”

Concerning existing earthen dams throughout the American West, he observed, “ The original structures, many of them may end up across the 50-year mark. Without rehab, without addressing the let-down pipes, and the valve works – all things that were designed with the best technology of the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s – then potentially these structures might have to be not only decommissioned but removed.

“By spending a little money on rehab, using modern alloys and mechanical parts works, using different composite parts for let-down pipes, we can extend those structures lives from its present 50-year limit by potentially much as a hundred years.

“That has been one of my crusade issues, working with the conservation districts in Oklahoma and across the country. We’re going to work very hard to make sure that is properly funded in this Farm Bill.”

Lucas pivoted, to stress in rarely-seen passionate terms, his view as a powerful House leader that “all spending is under scrutiny. I mean, in the House, where the focus is on reducing spending, all spending is under scrutiny. Even programs like this that might appear to be beyond question, will have to justified, and defended and fought for.”

Note: Photos provided by Glenn Hightower

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