When I became Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee in January of this year, I had one primary goal: to ensure that America’s farmers and ranchers have the policies in place that they need to feed, fuel, and clothe the nation while ensuring stability and consistency for farmers, ranchers, consumers, markets, and rural communities. After all, agriculture is the foundation of our livelihood and the lifeblood of rural America. And, while our work will never be done, we are off to a great start.
In Case You Missed It: FB News Profiles Chairman Lucas
Tamara Hinton, 202.225.0184
WASHINGTON – In a special report for the current edition of FB News, Rep. Frank Lucas, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, is profiled by the American Farm Bureau Federation. In the article, Chairman Lucas highlights his background in agriculture and his legislative priorities for the committee in the 112th Congress. FB News is the official newspaper of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Click here for the article. The full text of the interview is below.
1. What was the first political office you held?
I served in the state legislature for nearly six years before I came to Congress. Prior to that, I was appointed to serve as vice chairman of the county election board when I was 23. I’ve always had an interest in politics and public service and was involved in student government in high school as well as FFA. My parents instilled in me the philosophy that as good, responsible citizens you should be involved in the process and make sure that positive things are happening in your community.
It was after serving in the state legislature that I realized a majority of the taxes, the rules, the regulations, the things that really torment people didn’t come from state government; they came from Washington. So when my predecessor resigned mid-term, I decided to run for Congress.
2. What is your ag background?
I purchased my first registered shorthorn heifer when I was a sophomore in high school, which created the foundation for the operation that my wife, Lynda, and I manage today. I am a farmer who is a member of Congress, not a member of Congress who is a farmer. It is an important distinction because I have lived the real world challenges that our farmers, ranchers and rural constituents face across the country. I come from a fifth-generation farm family in western Oklahoma, and it has given me an appreciation for just how challenging agriculture can be.
3. On the farm bill, we certainly have some challenges in the form of budget constraints. But tell us about some of the opportunities that exist to improve farm policy.
I think we have the opportunity to prioritize programs that are working, change programs that are broken, and look at all of the programs as a whole to ensure efforts are not duplicated. We have a tendency to pile on new programs without looking at how they interact with existing programs or to see how much they duplicate what we already have. When money is tight Congress and the affected communities have a vested interest in making sure we are doing things as efficiently as possible. I also think there is a compelling case to make these programs more streamlined for our producers, make them less burdensome and easier to understand. I have seen examples of producers enrolling in six or seven conservation programs with six or seven separate applications. We need to look at doing a better job for our producers.
4. What’s your philosophy about direct payments and the other aspects of the farm safety net?
My general philosophy about direct payments is that they are a significant part of the safety net we provide for producers. It is something they can rely on; it is something they can show their banker. Also, direct payments are the most WTO compliant part of the safety net. Since we’re a part of the WTO, we have to contend with that when we consider our policies. In the 2008 farm bill we added some other components to the set of tools we give producers to manage risk and I think we need to evaluate their effectiveness. The ACRE and SURE programs have had some growing pains. And, with SURE not having a baseline going into the next farm bill we would have to cut other parts of the safety net to fund that program, so I think it will come under increased scrutiny. In general, given the budget constraints, every program will be on the table for examination and every program must stand on its own merits.
7. Let’s talk process.
The farm bill process will start with what I like to call an audit of all existing farm bill programs. I look at it as taking inventory of what we currently provide to producers and asking a few simple questions: Is the program duplicative? Is the funding level consistent with needs of producers while also being fiscally responsible? Has the program outlived its usefulness? I hope this audit will simply identify which programs are working and which ones are not.
The next step would be to do our traditional field hearings starting in the fall. I think Mr. Peterson did a great job of getting producers and producer groups to start thinking about the farm bill and the difficult job we have ahead. Again, I think it is imperative to evaluate these programs after producers have had time to operate under them and see how they are working.
I really enjoy these field hearings and think they are important because we talk directly to the men and women who grow our food, fiber and energy. I like to hear directly from them on their home turf. From there we will hold additional hearings in D.C. and then start putting pen to paper.
8. Will the committee be involved in oversight of the EPA's regulatory actions?
The first priority on the Agriculture Committee’s agenda is aggressive oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency. It seems that every day the EPA is proposing a new regulation, facilitating new litigation, or allowing unelected bureaucrats to run wild across the farms and ranches of America. Under the Obama administration, the EPA seems most interested in pursuing the extreme agenda of environmental groups with a blatant disregard for the economic impact it will have on our rural communities. It is the job of the Agriculture Committee to be an advocate for our farmers and ranchers and let them have a voice in the process.
9. What other legislative priorities will the Ag Committee address?
In addition to oversight of the EPA and farm bill preparations, the Committee will also exercise its jurisdiction over the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill that passed into law during the last Congress. The regulations from Dodd-Frank have the potential to impact every segment of the economy from farmers to manufacturers to real estate developers.
10. Farm Bureau members by and large feel that we need more and more export opportunities. What market-opening measures do you support?
Our number one priority in trade policy right now is to immediately implement the three pending agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama. In one fell swoop we can open more than $3 billion in new market access in these very important markets. Without swift action by the administration and Congress, the U.S. will cede tremendous market share to our global competitors.
11. Whom do you cheer for during football season?
I graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in agricultural economics. There’s only one team I’m rooting for during football season and that’s the Oklahoma State Cowboys!