When Congress takes up the 2012 farm bill “everything will be on the table,” according to Garrett King, aide to U.S. House of Representatives Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas.
“Everything” includes nutrition programs, King said during a legislative update at the recent Oklahoma Peanut Expo, held annually at the Quartz Mountain Resort near Lone Wolf, Okla.
“Agriculture will do its part to see that the federal budget is in order,” King said, but added that Lucas, R, Okla., and ranking member Colin Peterson, D, N.D., have written a letter to USDA indicating that agriculture has already “done its part” with cuts in crop insurance programs and that those cuts should be taken into consideration in fiscal year 2012.
“We also request that further cuts be made through the committee on agriculture,” he said. “Our goal is to make the 2012 farm bill the best piece of legislation ever issued.”
King responded to a question from Oklahoma Peanut Commission executive secretary Mike Kubicek regarding potential to cut funds from nutrition programs. “Everything has to be on the table,” King said. “Everything in nutrition is on the table.”
Nutrition programs account for 75 percent of farm bill spending. “It’s up to us to defend commodity programs and the farm safety net.”
He said some members are on the committee to protect nutrition funding. “But it isn’t always a party split” he said.
He said current high commodity prices will be part of the farm bill debate. “Prices will be part of the battle, but we don’t write farm bills for good times. We write farm bills for bad times. We have had a low cost farm program since the 1930s that kept food abundant, safe and cheap.”
King said debating a farm bill during an election year may not be business as usual but is intentional. “It is timed to come up during a presidential election year,” he said. “It’s not good politics to veto a farm bill in an election year.”
He said another reason Lucas wants to wait until 2012 to work on a new farm bill is to give USDA a chance “to let the 2008 law be fully implemented. We also want to educate new members of the committee.
“We’re also addressing pressing issues.”
Environmental Protection Agency rulings are among those issues.
“We will have the EPA administrator in front of the committee. We ask that EPA consider three things before they make new rulings. One is to ask if EPA is following the law, complying with the U.S. Constitution and the intent of Congress.
“We ask if they have done a cost/benefit analysis before implementing a new ruling. And we ask that they consider what financial impact a regulation will have on rural America and agriculture.”
King said Lucas and other members of the House Ag Committee need to hear from farmers. “We want to hear your ideas,” he said. “It’s also our job to tell the story of American agriculture. We have to educate friends and neighbors.”
Mike Schulz, majority floor leader in the Oklahoma State Senate, talked about legislative issues that may affect agriculture. He said one bill, HB1208, allows the governor to reorganize “every board in the state. I don’t think this is a good idea.”
He said the current system is set up for “continuity between administrations.”
Schulz said the budget will be a touchy issue as the state faces a 10 percent shortfall. “That’s on top of 5 percent to 10 percent budget cuts in past years. It will be a difficult budget year.”
He said an immigration bill should focus on public safety. “We passed a bill out of the Senate with too much employee language.”
He said a worker’s compensation bill “will dramatically change worker’s comp in Oklahoma. It attacks both the legal and medical sides.”
Schulz said redistricting also will be an issue in this legislative session. “It will be easier to do this time. We will maintain five House seats. We are close to drawing Senate lines.”
He said the Oklahoma sales tax exemption for farmers “is safe for this session.”