House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., discuss the farm bill at a State Fair town hall meeting Friday in Huron. Noem is also a member of the committee. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRIS STUDER
HURON — With an-other deadline looming, no one can say for certain what will happen when the House and Senate reconvene and a conference committee begins reconciling two versions of the next farm bill.
A one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill expires at the end of September, but if the conferees get quickly to work House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., has been assured the deadline can be met.
At the invitation of Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., a fellow agriculture committee member, Lucas was at the State Fair on Friday to join her at a town hall, primarily to discuss the farm bill.
The U.S. food supply is a national security issue, Noem said, adding she believes the House acted in good faith by providing a safety net while offering a conservation component that protects natural resources as well as a livestock disaster provision.
Earlier, the Senate passed its version of the next farm bill. The House took the unusual step of passing a bill after separating out the nutrition title — the 80 percent of farm bill funding that includes food stamps.
When Congress returns, Republican leaders want to see action on the nutrition title so the entire package can go to conference committee and, hopefully, the president’s desk, Lucas said.
“I would tell you that whether it passes or doesn’t pass, I expect relatively quick action one way or the other,” he said.
The Senate bill saves about $4 billion, while the House version saves $20 billion.
Noem said she thinks the House bill is accountable to taxpayers by eliminating many things people have complained about.
Another $20 billion in savings would come by closing a loophole in the 1996 law that 40 states have used. “If you receive any kind of federal welfare benefits, you automatically get food stamps, without applying,” Lucas said.
There are ongoing philosophical debates that must be resolved if the bill can ever move forward.
And Lucas said high turnover in Congress means that half of the members weren’t in office the last time a farm bill was passed in 2008.
But he said Noem has been a valuable player on the committee he heads.
“So when you give me a member who understands agriculture, who lives agriculture, who comes home to an agricultural state, you give me an ally to work with as we proceed through these issues,” he said.
Both Lucas and Noem represent primarily rural constituents and both are farmers and ranchers.
Lucas comes from western Oklahoma, the area of the country hardest hit by the Great Depression in the 1930s. He said that region went from 14,000 people to 7,000 people by 1940, and has only returned to 3,000.
He said he understands the ravages of weather as well as the impact of bad farm policy.
Noem said the bill the House has passed reauthorizes livestock disaster assistance programs, has sodsaver protections to encourage good land stewardship, combats the pine beetle infestation in the Black Hills by adding more acres and establishes a permanent Office of Tribal Relations within the Department of Agriculture.
It repeals direct payments to farmers and stops payments to people no longer farming.
Awaiting action after the August recess is the nutrition program, where Republicans want more cuts and Democrats believe the cuts are too deep.
If a five-year farm bill can be passed, the process may never be repeated the same way.
“We’ve gone places during this farm bill that I never believed were possible,” Noem said.
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