House Ag Chairman Lucas Signals $38 Billion Savings in Coming Farm Bill

April 25, 2013 02:52 AM
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Amendments on floor expected on crop insurance

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House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said his panel will start with the farm bill the panel approved in 2012 and adjust it in some areas and will target 10-year savings of $38 billion, according to an interview the lawmaker gave to Oklahoma Farm Report and Radio Oklahoma Network.

Lucas said he expects fewer acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) – perhaps a more significant decline than last year's farm bill draft, changes to the nutrition title of the bill and the commodity title as panel members write their version of the legislation starting in mid-May.

May 15th is a go,” Lucas said, confirming indications last week that he was moving ahead with panel work on the bill the middle of May. “We have not issued the official markup notice yet, but both the Ranking Member Peterson (Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.) and myself are discussing this in public. I think we have an understanding, leadership has been alerted. May 15th, I believe that’s a Wednesday, we will markup the 2013 farm bill in the House Agriculture Committee.”

The draft legislation the panel will work with is essentially the package the panel approved in 2012, Lucas said. “There have been some adjustments in some points simply because of the various entities like the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) have rescored some or our expenditures, our savings, and we’ve had to make adjustments to reflect that. But, we’re going to have choice. We’re going to save money. We’re going to do it in a bipartisan way. We’re going to have a safety net for all crops in all regions. And we’re going to make sure our fellow citizens who need help have something to eat.”

Regarding the sensitive issue of food stamps/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Lucas said he thinks he can accommodate those seeking deeper reductions in the program. “We were focused last summer, and we’ll continue to be focused on things like categorical eligibility, ending the practice a number of states have used, a loophole in the 1996 welfare reform law that basically says if you receive this or that or one of several different versions of welfare assistance, then you automatically qualify for food stamps,” he explained. “We’ll say in this farm bill that you have to demonstrate your income and asset level and if you qualify, we help you.”

The savings level on nutrition programs in the new farm bill will be around $20 billion compared to $16.5 billion in the legislation the panel approved in 2012, Lucas said.

Once the bill reaches the House floor, Lucas said he expects that crop insurance will be targeted for additional reductions. “I think, I believe, the Ag committee will be able to explain and justify everything that will be in the draft of the farm bill when it leaves the committee and goes to the floor, but it’s on the floor where crop insurance will come under assault,” he noted. “It won’t be assaulted in the Ag committee itself, because the membership understand how the program works and why it’s important. And, in effect, it is becoming the safety net of the farm bill as these other programs change so dramatically.”

On the topic of farmer choice and the use of target/reference prices as an option for producers, Lucas said that some have softened their opposition to this approach. “There are a number of groups out there who, perhaps, thought in recent history that because of other federal programs, because of where they were from weather and soil-wise and the crop, that they had the ability to raise, that they were immune,” he explained. “But the drought hurt everybody this last year. It made an impression in the Southwest, in the Midwest, it hurt everybody.”

Comments: The Senate Ag Committee will likely hold its markup session about a week before the tentative May 15 timeline in the House. The Senate savings number will likely be $23 billion, meaning a unified number must come later, and that could occur in upcoming debt limit hike talks that could go into September because tax receipts have been larger than previously expected.

Regarding the House farm bill, I have learned that Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) will likely push dairy supply management language be limited to three years in an attempt at dairy policy compromise. Sources say Lucas may go along with that approach. The coming House farm bill markup draft will likely show the proposed dairy title costing money, rather than saving just over $400 million as was indicated in the scoring of in last year's farm bill markup vehicle.

As for the farm bill timeline, House GOP leaders want the farm bill off the floor by the July Fourth recess. If so, that means staff could work on conference issues, with a hoped for farm bill conclusion before the one-year extension of most of the 2008 Farm Bill expires at the end of September. Sources say the goal is for both the Senate and House, both at the Committee level and on floor debate, to hold their markups and votes as close together as possible, so as to build momentum. House GOP leaders do not want much time to elapse between panel markup and floor debate.

Regarding potential floor amendments and conference issues, sources say they expect the so-called shallow loss program to be included in both the Senate and House farm bill markups, but that program could be deleted in the coming conference session. As for amendments, several controversial ones are expected regarding sugar policy and crop insurance, with opponents of both programs focusing on substantial reforms for those two areas. Veteran contacts do not see those opponents winning.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


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