House will pass farm bill, Rep. Lucas predicts

The House will pass a five-year farm bill this summer, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) predicted Monday.

Lucas’ comments come after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Friday told his conference through a memo that the House will take up a farm bill. 

“Of course I have very pleased that the Majority Leader would list that as one of the items we would do this summer," Lucas told The Hill in an interview. "That was one of the things I was never able to secure a year ago.” 

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Lucas produced a farm bill last year, but it never made it to the House floor. Given Cantor's support, he said 2013 would be different.

“My prediction is we will pass a bill out of committee, with the direction that the majority floor leader has indicated we will have floor time, we will have a very lively battle and debate on the floor of the House of Representatives. I think we will pass our bill,” he said. 

Lucas blamed presidential election-year politics for last year's failure.

“Trying to do something in a presidential election causes a lot of angst and complication,” he said. 

The difficulty this year, he said, will be in negotiating a compromise between the House and the Senate. 

“That will entail some effort,” he said.

Lucas said the Senate is looking at about $4 billion in cuts to food stamps, while the House will look to cut the program by more than $20 billion. 

Lucas said he would withhold judgment on deeper food stamp cuts likely to be proposed by House conservatives.  Reversing the growth in the program is different than defunding it, he noted. 

The House-passed 2014 budget would turn the food stamp program into a block grant for the states to manage. 

Conservatives say they want to split off the the food stamp program from the farm support payments included in the farm bill, something that would divide the coalition of urban liberals and rural lawmakers that have traditionally ensured support for farm bills. 

Lucas's farm bill last year would have reduced farm spending by $35 billion over 10 years. This year he said he will push for deeper savings.

“Our savings in the range of $38 billion, compared to $35 billion last year so we’ll have increased our effort,” he said. 

The Senate's bill will include savings of “somewhere around $25 billion” he said.

Among other differences, he predicted the Senate bill would put more emphasis on a revenue-based shallow loss insurance program, while the House would keep traditional price-based supports as a choice. 

Lucas said there could be 100 amendments in committee and at least that many under a modified open rule on the House floor.

The House chairman said he opposes a controversial effort by the Obama administration to fundamentally change the way food aid is provided. 

Currently, most international food assistance come in the form of U.S. agricultural products shipped abroad. Obama’s 2014 budget argues it is more cost effective to buy food locally. Aid advocates say the current system dumps U.S. products in a way that hurts impoverished farmers in developing countries. 

Lucas said the administration's proposal would make it tougher to secure votes for the farm bill. 

“My perspective is that you have a very solid coalition of support that has grown over the last 30, 40 years to make sure hungry people around the world, if you switch you away from the system of using U.S. grown food to meet the needs of the hungry around the world…then you start to make it difficult to secure the votes to maintain that support,” Lucas said. 



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