The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 6, 2013

Looking for a drought-buster

After an ongoing dry spell that has lasted several years, both Congress and northwest Oklahoma need some rain

By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — When the farm bill was not approved last year the process had to begin again.

U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and he will lead the ag committee through the process. They are preparing to start markup of the bill, with less money to spend than the last farm bill, Lucas said.

“We didn’t get it done last year, and we start all over,” he said.

Federal budget cuts kicked in at the first of the year, and the Continuing Funding Resolution extended the previous year’s budget, but it was only approved for half the year. The rest of the year must now be approved, Lucas said. The House will proceed with looking at a budget prepared by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. The Senate also approved a budget, and Lucas predicts the two never will be reconciled.

“We needed to know how much money we have to spend, and now we know that,” Lucas said.

The next step is the House Agriculture Committee taking up the bill. Lucas predicted work on crafting the farm bill will be ongoing through June, and committee members probably will start with the bill that was agreed on last year but never went to reconciliation.

 Reconciliation is the process of putting the Senate and House bills into one package.

There are still issues to be sorted out with the Senate, Lucas said.

The previous bill approved by the U.S. Senate cut $23 billion from the farm bill, but the House version cut $35 billion. They never reconciled the bill to reach a final number.

“We will start this time with how big do the savings have to be,” Lucas said.

President Obama would like to sign a grand bargain for a long-term spending reduction, and if that happens the amount available will be known. The Ryan budget will provide guidance. That budget advocates $31 billion in commodity portion and also calls for food stamps — the largest portion of the social nutrition program — to be sent as a block grant back to the states for administration.

“I don’t see the president signing that or the Senate passing that,” Lucas said.

Some policy questions also are to be determined.

The Senate is concerned about crop revenue, called shallow loss revenues, which sets a safety net for protection of commodity prices. However, the proposal in the Senate would benefit the Midwestern states, which grow corn. Lucas prefers a choice that will give producers the option of taking the corn program or another aimed at wheat, cotton and other crops. He expects the final bill will have some sort of choice on commodity options. He still needs to determine if there will be a nutrition title in general.

Then the committee must get its work done, get the bill to the floor for approval and hopefully sent to the Senate. He hopes the Senate will approve a bill, and it will be sent to a conference committee for reconciliation. Lucas will preside over the conference committee this year, as chairman of the Agriculture Committee.

He said the farm bill most likely will have a commodity title and contain food stamp reforms while establishing programs for all farm groups and regions.

“It we do all those things and still get a majority of votes in the Senate, it will go to conference committee,” he said.

Lucas tried to finish the bill last year, but could not get it done because of a lack of commitment during election year and failure between the leadership. When the farm bill was not passed the current bill continued, extending the 2008 farm bill yet another year.

All of that, and the weather, leads to frustration for the Congressman that represents northwest Oklahoma.

“Whatever is in the next farm bill will be substantially less money. Plus it needs to rain more this year,” Lucas said.