True to form, House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) at the 2012 Farm Journal Forum, hosted in partnership with Informa Economics, delivered a frank and dynamic address not surprisingly revolved around the fiscal cliff and the related farm bill process.
Lucas pointed out that when the "powers that be," namely President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), determine the farm bill must get done, it will get done. But consistent with recent talk, Lucas did indicate budget reconciliation will likely take the form of a mechanism similar to that of the failed Super Committee process of 2011, where all standing committees will be assigned specific dates by which they must make definitive actions to deliver definitive cuts.
He emphasized that roughly three weeks before year-end does not allow enough time to address the major budget issues and reforms that are needed. He expressed confidence the ag committees would be able to step up and offer mandated savings, but again said a transition period will likely be needed considering the "magnitude of the changes we're talking about."
He jokingly noted he likes the people at USDA and it is simply not possible for them to implement likely major changes and programs ahead of year-end when producers would be left without a safety net. That possibility is simply unacceptable according to Lucas.
Notably, Lucas noted that ag leaders had made "great progress" in recent days regarding the commodity title and said there is no reason we can't be ready to "pony up" and offer farm bill savings.
Speaking to the differences between the Senate-passed farm bill and the House Ag Committee-passed bill, Lucas was adamant that the farm bill must offer producers choices. He said he recognizes the importance of revenue programs to certain areas of the country and noted that is why we have the safety net choices included in the House ag panel version.
But he said relying solely on a revenue program is also unwise, because he pointed out that changes in prices over an extended time can result in producers falling off a cliff. That's why a price loss coverage program choice is important, according to Lucas. In fact, he indicated he would rather have nothing in terms of a farm bill than one without PLC.
Regarding the food and nutrition portion of the farm bill, Lucas acknowledged this is a touchy issue, but said that all areas will have to take part in savings. He believes that you can make substantial reforms to SNAP (formerly food stamps) and "not take one calorie off one deserving person's … plate."
In the concluding question and answer period, Lucas again emphasized the importance of providing farmers a choice, saying he would rather have "nothing" than have to pick and choose among his agriculture children around the country. To drive home his point, he pointed to the 1930s dust bowl and depression years and the 1980s farm crisis as a time when "nature and public policy both went berserk," and said he has a personal commitment not to be involved in creating that scenario again.