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January 29, 2014

Lucas: Approval of farm bill a ‘miracle’

STILLWATER, Okla. — Oklahoma Congressman Frank Lucas called the 2014 farm bill a “miracle” after the $100 billion-a-year bill cleared the House, 251-166, Wednesday.

“This is a legislation we can all be proud of because it fulfills the expectations the American people have of us,” Lucas said. “They expect us to work together to find ways to reduce the cost of the federal government.”

The Republican, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, has been working on a farm bill since 2011. Farm bill 2012 didn’t get to the House floor for a vote. Farm bill 2013 failed in June when the most conservative Republicans voted against it because cuts to food-stamp programs were not deep enough.

Lucas and House speaker John Boehner split the bill into farm programs and nutrition programs. The farm programs won approval first. Later, the House passed food stamp program cuts.

A conference committee reunited the House farm and nutrition bills and the Senate’s all-inclusive bill. Monday, the conference committee approved the bill, which cleared the House Wednesday.

The five-year bill heads to the Senate where approval seems certain. The White House has said President Barack Obama will sign it.

The farm bill reduces the federal deficit, reforms farm policies, provides a safety net for producers of food and fiber and makes sure Americans have enough food to eat, Lucas said.

“I am hopeful the legislation will enjoy the same success when the Senate considers it, and I encourage the president to sign it quickly into law,” Lucas said.

The farm bill didn’t please everyone. U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., voted against it, saying it doesn’t do enough to cut food-stamp expenses.

Many House conservatives rejected the bill — 63 Republicans opposed it, one more than in June. But 89 Democrats supported it because of smaller cuts in food stamps. The bill cuts approximately $800 million a year from the $80-billion-a-year food stamp program. It’s a cut of approximately 1 percent annually.

The original House nutrition bill sought a 5-percent yearly cut.

The food stamp savings comes from requiring all people who receive food stamps to apply for them.

In some states, residents were automatically enrolled if they applied for federal heating assistance. The bill ends the practice of automatic enrollment.

Compromise also was needed to craft farm policies.

Lucas and his Senate counterpart Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., backed away from repealing a catfish program and dropped House language that would have negated California’s law requiring eggs sold in the state to come from hens living in larger cages.

The legislation eliminates the $4.5 billion direct payment subsidy, which pays farmers whether they farm or not.

However, corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton will continue to be heavily subsidized. Eventually the subsidies will shift to a more politically defensible crop insurance program. Farmers would actually have to incur a loss in order to get a payout.

The Congressional Budget Office said the bill would produce an annual savings of $1.65 billion.

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