The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local news

April 1, 2013

Lucas offers Rotarians glimpse of Congress' work

ENID, Okla. — U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas told Enid Rotary Club members Monday although nothing is getting done in Washington, Congress and the president are a reflection of what the people have decided.

“We have a very conservative House, a very liberal president, and a Senate where if no one gets 60 percent of 100 members, no one is in charge,” said Lucas, a Republican. “The voters left it that way.”

Half the membership of the House Agriculture Committee has changed, he said, reflecting the massive changes to House membership. When Lucas entered Congress 19 years ago, he was 434th in seniority. Today, he is No. 69 in seniority and is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

Lucas, who also is a farmer from Cheyenne in Roger Mills County, said he has come home from Washington every weekend since he was elected, calling it “back to reality.”

In recent years — especially this year — Congress is all about the money. Controversial across-the-board budget cuts — called sequestration — will reduce the federal budget by $85 billion each year over a 10-year period. Lucas said that will represent only about 1 percent of the overall annual budget, but it will have a cumulative effect and total about $2 trillion in spending cuts. This year’s budget is $3.4 trillion.

Lucas, who represents Oklahoma’s 3rd Congressional District, said the 1974 budget act established that each house of Congress would approve a spending plan, then the two plans would be reconciled in conference committee. The Senate budget plan this year is much different than the House’s plan, which seeks more cuts.

“The president and the Senate say they need new revenues,” Lucas said. “That means tax increases.”

Lucas also spoke on a number of other topics, including:

• Gun control. Lucas said he receives more constituent mail and telephone calls about gun control than any other issue. He said he has heard there is a group of senators putting a plan together, but there is nothing in the House concerning gun control.

• Immigration. Lucas said there are working groups in both the Senate and House developing plans on how to handle the immigration issue.

• Agriculture. As chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Lucas said he has spent more time on the farm bill — important in the heavily agricultural 3rd District — than anything else. He said this year’s bill will spend less money. About 80 percent of the farm bill concerns nutrition programs, such as school lunches, food stamps and the Women, Infants and Children program. Roughly 20 percent concerns actual food programs.

The bill the House Agriculture Committee approved spends $35 billion less than to the current farm bill. About 16 percent of the cuts will be made in nutrition programs, Lucas said.

“We want to make sure those who need help will get it, but those who qualify actually meet the qualifications,” he said.

Responding to questions from Rotarians, Lucas said he believes the president will sign the farm bill.

• Federal deficit. Lucas said interest on the federal deficit will continue to grow. The Federal Reserve is holding down interest rates to almost a negative number, considering inflation, and that cannot continue indefinitely. Lucas said the country must pay interest on its obligations.

“That will consume us alive,” he said.

Lucas said the federal government does not grow the economy, but transfers wealth and creates winners and losers. He said he likes the idea of a “fair tax,” but some of his colleagues like the idea of a “flat tax.”

However, he said it is no accident the nation got to the position it is now. He said he is fond of former president George W. Bush, but soon after he was elected came the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and Bush became a war president. He was consumed with the war, and his only task was to “get the bad guys,” Lucas said.

“That took us in a different direction than we were going,” Lucas said. “The public got tired of that, and in the elections, we got Obama, Pelosi and Reid.”

Later, the House changed back to Republican hands, but there still is a very liberal president and Senate with no one in charge, Lucas said.

• Energy. Lucas said in spite of the bad news, there has been progress toward energy independence in the past five years through advantages in technology, although there still are some problems to overcome. He said fracking is one example: No matter how well oil companies locate oil, they must use fracking to get the oil out, a big concern to many people on the East Coast who don’t understand the process.

• Health care. The big problem of federal health care is it will create cost changes that businesses will not be able to afford, Lucas said.

“We must step back. I think it is designed to eventually have one national system and put private insurance companies out of business,” he said.

There is an amendment attached to the federal health care plan requiring Congress and its employees to participate in the plan, Lucas said.

However, he said the fine print shows members of the White House staff, committee staff and leadership are exempted.

“They wrote it,” Lucas said. “They exempted themselves when they wrote it.”

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