Opening Statement of Chairman Frank D. Lucas House-Senate Conference Committee H.R. 2642, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013
As prepared for delivery
Good afternoon, and welcome to the first meeting of the House-Senate Conference Committee charged with negotiating a compromise between the House and Senate-passed farm bills.
I could not be more pleased to be at this point in the process. I appreciate all of your work to get us here and your willingness to serve on this important committee.
I hope we are keenly aware of our responsibility to put policy in place that is good for our farmers, ranchers, consumers, and those who have hit difficult times. This takes place despite considering a complicated bill in an environment where the political battles can be loud and unhelpful. Consensus has proven to be an elusive goal at times in Congress, but it is a word that underscores the work we do in the agriculture community every day.
I commend my Ranking Member and friend, Collin Peterson, as well as, my counterparts and friends in the Senate, Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Member Thad Cochran. We have maintained a solid working relationship throughout this process. We have never lost sight of the goal; we have never wavered in our commitment to enacting a five-year, comprehensive farm bill.
When we are successful, when we have reached consensus, we will have a final product that provides major savings to the Treasury, significant reforms to policy, and yet still provides a safety net for not only the production of food and fiber, but also to ensure our fellow citizens have enough food to eat.
I take this seriously. My colleagues in this room know this is personal for me. I live in a part of the country where bad policy nearly destroyed the way of life for the people in my district. I don't plan to be a part of a process that creates bad policy for agriculture and rural America.
I've said this many times before, but it is worth saying again: a safety net must be written with bad times in mind. A farm bill should not guarantee that the good times are the best, but rather that the bad times are manageable.
A safety net should provide flexibility and choice to meet the unpredictable nature of farming. We have been working on reauthorizing the farm bill for more than three years now. Let's consider for a moment what has happened during that time.
Last year, we were concerned about a drought of epic proportions that was gripping a majority of the nation and with it endangering vast areas of productive agriculture. For some parts of the country, including my state of Oklahoma, that was the second consecutive year of drought conditions. Meanwhile, some places like Missouri saw record-breaking floods causing economic devastation. Today we are talking about a rare, destructive, and early blizzard that struck South Dakota this month causing our friends in the north to lose tens of thousands of cattle and sheep.
When you understand what farmers do for a living, you understand the need for an effective safety net.
When you understand that these catastrophic events can happen all across the country impacting different types of agricultural producers at any given time, you understand the safety net cannot be one-size-fits-all.
The House farm bill reflects a belief in giving farmers and ranchers no matter where they live or what they grow something they can count on to help mitigate risks inherent in this business. Whether it is the risk of a natural disaster or the risk of a multi-year price collapse, we must provide the tools for farmers to make it to the next year.
To that end, livestock SURE and crop insurance take on great significance. We restore the Livestock Forage Program and the Livestock Indemnity Program that is important to our ranchers. Crop insurance covers 128 crops, 282 million acres, and serves as a good example of a private-public partnership where producers pay a premium for coverage to help them survive when a disaster hits. During a series of hearings on farm policy, farmers explained time and again that crop insurance is an essential risk management tool that should be preserved. For those of us who enjoy eating, it is a sound investment to ensure a stable and affordable food supply.
For this reason, I am not in favor of applying layers of regulatory bureaucracy to it. Conservation compliance is already the law of the land. Tying this measure to crop insurance is a redundant regulatory burden on people who are already the best caretakers of our natural resources and who already have conservation practices in place.
Providing regulatory relief to our producers is another priority in the House bill. For example, our bill eliminates an extra permit requirement for the use of pesticides already federally regulated and makes certain farmers who have on-farm gasoline storage are not subject to rules designed for oil refineries. Other measures include ensuring USDA reviews EPA's proposals that could harm farmers, requiring an economic review of FDA regulations, holding agencies to higher standards of scientific integrity, and addressing costs imposed on producers resulting from irresponsible lawsuits.
The GIPSA rule was first proposed over three years ago, and producers I talk to still ask that this issue be put to bed once and for all. We adopted an amendment to do just that and I will support it during conference negotiations. Another issue important to the livestock community is the pending WTO case associated with mandatory country of origin and the potential retaliation from our trading partners. I am hopeful that working together we can prevent the imposition of tariffs on a wide array of products important to many states.
And, finally, the House bill makes major reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP serves a noble purpose to help Americans who have hit bottom, which is why we must make certain it is working in the most effective and efficient way. I am here to find common ground on the reforms in the House and Senate-passed farm bills to preserve this important safety net for those most in need.
In closing, let me say that no one who is a part of this effort is going to like everything in this bill. But, we have a responsibility to reach consensus and do what is best for all of agriculture and rural America. Let's give certainty and sound policy to our agricultural producers; let's deliver taxpayers billions of dollars in deficit reduction; let's continue to provide consumers the affordable and reliable food supply they have grown accustomed to. Let's work together to get our work done.