Frank Lucas, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee has been meeting with the House leadership to move forward with the 2013 farm bill. He spoke with Radio Oklahoma Network’s Ron Hays and said the talks have produced a firm date for the bill’s markup.
“May 15th is a go. We have not issued the official markup notice yet, but both the Ranking Member Peterson 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.
“We will begin with a draft that essentially is the 2012 document. There have been some adjustments in some points simply because of the various entities like OMB and 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.”
Some Republicans have said they want deeper cuts in the nutrition title. Lucas said he believes he will be able to accommodate them by working on some practical reforms.
“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. We’ll say in this farm bill that you have to demonstrate your income and asset level and if you qualify, we help you.”
Lucas said lawmakers would also look at closing another loophole that was used in Northeastern states that allowed individuals to receive a full month’s worth of food stamps if they had received as little as one dollar in state aid for heating oil.
He said that instead of $16.5 billion in reforms in the nutrition title as called for in the 2012 farm bill, this bill will contain about $20 billion in savings. Lucas also said that some of his colleagues may offer an amendment when the bill is brought to the floor that would add a work requirement to the eligibility guidelines for receiving food stamps.
Overall, Lucas said he expects the bill will save about $38 billion dollars. He said that if every committee had to shave the same percentage off of their budgets as has the Agriculture Committee, the U.S. budget would be a lot closer to being balanced.
One of the areas that Lucas believes will be targeted for additional savings when the bill reaches the floor is the crop insurance title.
“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. 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.”
Lucas said he believes there is a good possibility that real consensus between conservatives and progressives can be achieved on May 15th before the bill goes to the floor.
Several agriculture groups that had been against target prices being included in last year’s farm bill seem to have moderated their tone, Lucas said.
“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. But the drought hurt everybody this last year. It made an impression in the Southwest, in the Midwest, it hurt everybody.”
Lucas said that in the end, he expects the ag committee members to stick to the principles they agreed upon last year when writing the farm bill, but to achieve the $38 billion target for savings, “You might see some more CRP come out. You most assuredly will see more reforms in the nutrition title. You’ll see some adjustments in the commodity title.”
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