House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas said last week that the current political climate has made it even more difficult than ever to move a farm bill.
Even though the House Republican budget is dead on arrival in the Senate, the benchmark it sets for spending battles could cause serious headaches for top Agriculture Committee members tasked with passing a farm bill this year.
The authorization measure is one of the last major bills left on the Congressional docket in 2012 and already has taken millions of dollars in hits from previous deficit reduction efforts. On the House and Senate Agriculture committees, the budget targets created by House Republicans — lower than those agreed to in last summer’s Budget Control Act — could further complicate the already difficult task of writing the legislation.
Agriculture committees are typically among the more bipartisan on Capitol Hill. And the response to the House-passed budget formulated by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — with its significant cuts to domestic discretionary spending — from not just Democrats but also the top House Republican on the Agriculture panel was indicative of how pressing the legislation is and how concerned bill-writers are about being able to get the legislation done right.
Farm bills always bring out massive lobbying campaigns and become magnets for partisan causes, such as the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act that was viewed as a victory for the Republican revolution of the 1990s.
But House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said last week that the current political climate has made it more difficult than ever to move a farm bill.
“The real challenge right now, as you know, is that few things are moving anywhere in any way. It’s kind of a challenging thing to be an Agriculture Committee chairman in the House or the Senate,” Lucas said, adding that the task for himself and Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) remains moving legislation with “substantially less” money than in previous years.
Although he acknowledged this reality, Lucas has also sought to give himself some wiggle room. On the day the Ryan budget was unveiled, Lucas released a statement that said: “I would caution people about reading too much into the numbers or policy proposals in either the President’s budget or the Ryan budget. They are only suggestions. During our process, both policy and deficit reduction targets will be developed … as we write a fiscally responsible Farm Bill that ensures Americans continue to have a safe, affordable, and stable food supply.”
Still, with the Ryan budget’s House passage last week, the spending constraint considerations are real.
“It will make it very difficult to pass, no doubt,” Stabenow said. “The level of cuts they’re talking about, even Chairman Lucas expressed concerns, so we’re going to move forward with the bipartisan agreement that we put together in the fall, which gives a significant deficit reduction, but it’s fair.”
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