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November 8, 2013

Lucas: Money makes the government go round

STILLWATER, Okla. — What do the 2013 farm bill and October’s partial government shutdown have in common?

Money — more specifically, the federal deficit.

The government reopened after Congress reauthorized current spending levels through Jan. 15 and raised the debt ceiling through Feb. 7 on Oct. 16. President Barack Obama signed the bill shortly after midnight Oct. 17.

It’s a temporary fix, U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas said Friday at a Stillwater Chamber of Commerce-sponsored congressional luncheon.

The Affordable Care Act played a role in the shutdown, Lucas said, but the basic issue was government spending. The U.S. is approximately $17 trillion in debt, and has amassed $1 trillion deficits annually the past four years.

“So, the real underlying question is how much money do we have to spend and how much money are we going to take away from you taxpayers to spend and how much more money are we going to borrow from people both within the United States and around the world to finance the difference. That’s the rub that makes the legislative process so complicated,” Lucas said.

The House of Representatives’ perspective is reduce spending because the U.S. doesn’t have enough revenue to pay for its expenses, Lucas said.

The Senate’s and Obama’s perspective is to maintain or increase spending because federal government spending helps the economy grow, he added.

“The House wants to spend less. The Senate and the president want to spend at least what we have been spending or more,” Lucas said. “There’s a fundamental disagreement.”

That rift created the shutdown, Lucas said, adding he didn’t support a shutdown.

“I don’t believe that’s the proper strategy to drive policy,” he said.

The farm bill enters the picture here.

The Senate and House have passed vastly different farm bills. A conference committee is trying to reconcile the bills.

Lucas, chairman of the House agriculture committee, said a farm bill that doesn’t reduce spending won’t survive. The farm bill focuses on three areas — commodities (food and fiber), dairy and nutrition.

Commodities and dairy primarily are policy issues. How does the United States salvage farmers, ranchers and dairy operators during natural disasters? Those programs require some funding, but nutrition is the bull in the china shop. It accounts for 80 percent of farm bill’s spending. It’s also where the Senate and House farm bills part ways, Lucas said.

The Senate proposes to save $4 billion. The House proposes to save $40 billion.

“I have to reconcile $4 billion and $40 billion. That’s a little bit of a challenge,” Lucas said. “We will work on that.”

Lucas said he remains optimistic a farm bill will be passed this session.

“I’m an Oklahoma wheat farmer. I am eternally optimistic that we will get it done. It’s in the DNA,” Lucas said.

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