Oklahoma Congressman Frank Lucas Opens Floor Debate on the 2013 Farm BillTue, 18 Jun 2013 15:11:01 CDT
Oklahoma Congressman Frank Lucas realized a dream on Tuesday afternoon as he stood on the floor of the US House and introduced his Committee's five year farm bill, HR 1947 and opened it up for floor consideration. Congressman Lucas called the FARRM bill a bill full of reform- "The FARRM Act is a different farm bill for different times. There is a reason we put reform in the title. This is the most reform-minded bill in decades. It repeals outdated policies while reforming, streamlining, and consolidating over 100 government programs. It reforms the SNAP program - also known as the food stamp program - for the first time since the welfare reforms of 1996. And, it makes tremendous reforms to farm programs."
He also bragged about the savings to taxpayers- almost $40 billion dollars over a ten year period. His full printed statement is below- and the audio of his comments are at the bottom of this story- simply click on the listen bar to hear his full remarks.
Lucas did leave his script for a time and shared his heart about why he was so passionate about getting a workable safety net that would not repeat the mistakes of past policies for farmers and ranchers across the US.
Today's opening hour of general debate on the floor of the House could be described as a pep rally for the bill, with Lucas and his ranking member, Democrat Collin Peterson, each speaking their mind and then sharing the floor with members of their Committee that are supportive of the five year bill. The first sour note was provided by Democratic lawmker Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, who told members that he could not support "this farm bill" because of the cuts in the SNAP program. The real arguments and possible blood letting will begin on Wednesday, as amendments are offered to make changes and in some cases, gut portions of the Committee crafted measure. The hope is to work through the amendments permitted by the House Rules Committee on Wednesday, with a final vote on the bill to be taken late Wednesday or on Thursday of this week.
If approved, it would move to a conference with the Senate this summer, with the hope of a final farm bill package to be brought back to both the House and Senate before the end of September.
Here is the opening statement of Chairman Lucas as released by the House Ag Committee:
"I rise today in strong support of HR 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013. This bipartisan bill is four years in the making and I could not have had a better partner than my friend from Minnesota, Mr. Peterson.
"He began this process four years ago when he led us into the countryside to have eight field hearings across this great nation. We followed up those field hearings with a series of 11 audit hearings on every single policy under the jurisdiction of the House Committee on Agriculture. In all, we held 40 hearings on every subject of the farm bill. The result is legislation that calls for reduced spending, smaller government, and common-sense reform.
The Committee has held two markups of essentially this bill: one last Congress and one last month. Both of these markups lasted more than 12 hours each and we considered over 200 amendments in total. In the end, we had a large, bipartisan margin of support. The vote tally this year was 36-10 with 23 out of 25 Republicans and 13 out of 21 Democrats supporting it.
"Some of my colleagues were amazed by the duration of the markup, but I came to Congress to legislate and an important part of the legislative process is an open and fair debate. The Speaker shares this sentiment, and I hope during the debate of amendments to the FARRM Act, we will let the body work its will. Then we will vote for its final passage.
"The FARRM Act is a different farm bill for different times. There is a reason we put reform in the title. This is the most reform-minded bill in decades. It repeals outdated policies while reforming, streamlining, and consolidating over 100 government programs. It reforms the SNAP program also known as the food stamp program - for the first time since the welfare reforms of 1996. And, it makes tremendous reforms to farm programs.
"The Agriculture Committee and the agriculture community have voluntarily worked together to make these reforms and contribute to deficit reduction. Every part of this bill is a part of the solution to Washington's spending problem. We save the American taxpayer nearly $40 billion, which is almost seven times the amount of cuts to these programs under sequestration.
"Regarding reforms to traditional farm programs, first off, we eliminate direct payments. They cost the taxpayer $5 billion a year. They were payments that people received every year regardless of market conditions and whether or not they farmed. Instead, we take a more market-oriented approach to policy where there is no support when market prices are high. We encourage responsible risk management where farmers are able to plan for catastrophic events.
"In addition to eliminating direct payments, we also repeal the ACRE program, the disaster program for crops, and the counter-cyclical program. My philosophy from the beginning of the farm bill process has been that these programs had to be based on market economics and they had to work for all crops in all regions of the country. Our bill achieves this while also saving $23 billion, which is a record 36 percent spending reduction.
"In conservation, a subject near and dear to my heart, we streamline delivery of these incredibly important programs. During our hearings, we learned that conservation programs had grown in number and complication, often acting as a deterrent for adopting these voluntary, incentive-based programs. Therefore, the FARRM Act eliminates and consolidates 23 duplicative and overlapping programs into 13, which saves nearly $7 billion.
"We also authorize, strengthen, and fully pay for livestock disaster assistance that is incredibly important to our livestock producers during devastating droughts, such as the ones we have been experiencing recently. The bill invests in core specialty crop initiatives like Specialty Crop Block Grants and Plant Pest and Disease Management and Prevention Programs. The FARRM Act also maintains our investment in agriculture research that gives farmers and ranchers the ability to explore new ways to not only provide our country with the safest, most affordable, most reliable food supply in the history of the world, but also help feed the 9 billion souls who are expected to inhabit this planet by 2050.
"The FARRM Act also reforms SNAP for the first time in decades. We do this by ensuring that states, which administer the program, cannot circumvent the law and endanger the integrity of the program. We end the broad-based categorical eligibility loophole that states use to waive the asset and income tests set by Congress. We end the "Heat and Eat" loophole, so states can't send token $1 checks to increase participants' benefits. We end state bonuses for responsibly administering SNAP a practice they should be doing anyway.
"Our reforms also eliminate the practice of advertising, promoting, and recruiting SNAP tools the administration has used to increase participation. We restrict lottery winners and traditional college students from accessing SNAP. We prevent abuses, such as water dumping to exchange bottles for cash. We require states to use an electronic verification system to confirm an applicant's immigration status. And, we provide the Secretary of Agriculture more resources to prevent trafficking and improve the quality of SNAP-approved stores.
"All of these reforms to SNAP ensure that families and individuals who qualify for benefits receive them.
"In closing, let me just reiterate, the FARRM Act of 2013 is a different farm bill to reflect the different times in which we live.
If you're serious about reducing billions of dollars in mandatory government spending, then the FARRM Act deserves your vote.
If you're serious about reducing the size and cost of the federal government, then the FARRM Act deserves your vote.
If you're serious about making sure every American has a safe, affordable, and reliable food supply, then the FARRM Act deserves your vote.
If you are serious about working together in a bipartisan way for the American people to achieve reforms and savings, then the FARRM Act deserves your vote.
"Mr. Chairman, I urge my colleagues to join me and my good friend from Minnesota in supporting this farm bill."
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