U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas isn’t happy with the new farm bill that passed the U.S. House Wednesday.

But after talking to people back in

Oklahoma, he decided it would be best to “take what we can get,” so he joined the rest of the state’s congressional delegation in voting for the bill, which passed 318-106.

The bill has a price tag of $290 billion over the next five years. Debate began in the Senate Wednesday, with a vote scheduled for today.

Lucas said he consulted with producers across the 3rd Congressional District as well as with elected leadership of numerous commodity groups, including Oklahoma Farm Bureau, Oklahoma Wheat Growers, American Farmers and Ranchers, Grain Sorghum Producers, Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association and Cotton Council.

The message from them was clear:

“Maybe Frank, we better take the half a loaf,” he said.

During debate on the bill, Lucas said he expressed his displeasure with the legislation, saying he had “real problems with the bill.” He particularly did not like cuts in fixed payments, which he has said are the single-most important thing to the wheat farmers he represents.

“My concern over the past several weeks has been the $313 million cut to direct payments,” he said. “After my discussions with agricultural leaders, it became clear that there is a fear that this is the best we are going to get under this majority leadership.

“While this legislation is far from perfect, I voted the will of my constituents today,” Lucas said Wednesday.

The new legislation, he said, is hardly a farm bill at all. About 74 percent of the money in the bill, he said, goes to nutrition programs, such as food stamps and emergency food aid for the needy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., according to Lucas, said she “would not support another farm bill” like this one because it was “too much of a farm bill.”

“Her words were, ‘This was the last time we would do a farm bill like this,’” Lucas said.

“This is not the process you should use to write a farm bill,” he said.

It was at Pelosi’s insistence, he said, $10 billion was added for food stamps throughout 10 years.

President Bush repeatedly has threatened to veto the legislation, saying it is too expensive and gives too much money to wealthy farmers. Lucas said he hoped the president would not veto the bill, since the margin in the House is more than enough to override a veto. He also said he anticipates enough votes in the Senate to override a veto.

If a veto comes, Lucas stands ready to go against the president.

“I believe I would vote to override a veto,” he said.

One option the president has, Lucas said, is to allow the bill to become law by allowing it to sit on his desk for 10 days without his signature.

The president’s main sticking point with the legislation is the amount farmers can earn and still receive government subsidies. Administration officials repeatedly had called for a limit of $200,000 in annual gross income but later indicated they could accept a limit of $500,000.

The bill would eliminate some federal payments to individuals with more than $750,000 in annual farm income — or married farmers who make more than $1.5 million. Individuals who make more than $500,000 or couples who make more than $1 million jointly in nonfarm income also would not eligible for subsidies.

Under current law, there is no income limit for farmers, and married couples who make less than one-fourth of their income from farming will not receive subsidies if their joint income exceeds $5 million.

Other provisions of the bill are:

• Target price for wheat that rises from $3.92 to $4.17 after two years. It also includes a $2.75 fixed loan rate for two years, adjusting to $2.94 in 2010. It will include a 52-cent direct payment over the life of the legislation.

• An additional $4 billion for conservation programs.

• $100 million for Small Watershed Rehabilitation Program. There are more than 10,000 small upstream flood control dams across the nation, many of which are in Oklahoma.

• Expansion of a program to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to schoolchildren.

• Increasing subsidies for certain crops, including fruits and vegetables excluded from previous farm bills.

• Extending dairy programs.

• Increasing loan rates for sugar producers.

• Urging the government to buy surplus sugar and sell it to ethanol producers for use in a mixture with corn.

• Cutting a per-gallon ethanol tax credit for refiners from 51 cents to 45 cents. The credit supports blending fuel with the corn-based additive. More money would go to cellulosic ethanol, made from plant matter.

• Requiring meats and other fresh foods carry labels with their country of origin.

• Stopping the practice of allowing farmers to collect subsidies for multiple farm businesses.

• Reopening a major discrimination case against the Agriculture Department. Thousands of black farmers who missed a deadline would get a chance to file claims alleging they were denied loans or other subsidies.

• Paying farmers for weather-related farm losses from a new $3.8 billion disaster relief fund.

Lucas was among the 27 members of the House and Senate conference committee who worked for the last several months to settle differences between House and Senate versions of the farm bill.



The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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