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Lucas, Peterson expect farm bill on House floor

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., told the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives today that he expects the farm bill to come up on the House floor next week, and then headed to a Republican Conference meeting to explain the importance of the bill to all Republican members of the House.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said late Tuesday that he and Lucas would meet today with House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, to discuss the rule under which the bill would be considered.

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla.<br />Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla.

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla.

In his speech to the co-op leaders today, an impassioned Lucas discussed both why he believes the bill should be brought up and the rules process.

“I am wound up like an eight-day clock. I am on adrenalin,” Lucas said. “It is push comes to shove on the farm bill.”

“I expect it will come to the floor next week,” Lucas said. “I would hope that somewhere around Monday the Rules Committee would put out a call for
amendments.”

Lucas said he expects hundreds of amendments to be filed, and hopes on Tuesday the Rules Committee will sort through them, realize that “redundancy is not a good use” of House members’ time, and limit the number of amendments on each subject.

He said wants an “open” but “orderly” process and that he expects the House will vote on “dozens — maybe 30 or 40” amendments. There will be amendments on every area, he said, including food stamps, sugar, dairy, conservation and crop insurance.

Lucas said the House “has drifted away from what I call regular process,” and that he believes open debate is the best way to achieve consensus on controversial legislation such as the farm bill. Noting that both Republicans and Democrats had voted for the bill in committee, he added, “I hope we are capable of achieving consensus on the farm bill.”

Lucas noted that only about half the House members were in office in 2008 to vote on the existing farm bill, and that there is little institutional memory of legislation.

“It matters that we understand the history,” Lucas said. “That is what makes you who you are.”

Lucas said constituents at town meetings have asked him “Why aren’t you doing something? Why aren’t you making something happen?” and he has begun to tell them that the House is conservative, the president is liberal, that in the Senate no one is in control and that “you voters made this equation.”

But he concluded, “We are going to get there, we are going to achieve consensus.”

Lucas said he does not know what the farm bill will look like once work on the floor is finished, but “it will be a document that will get us to conference.”

When the conference report comes up in the House and the Senate, Lucas noted, it will not be subject to amendment and there will be only up or down votes with a majority in each body required for passage.

On the conflict over dairy, with Peterson and the National Milk Producers Federation on one side and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the International Dairy Foods Association on the other, Lucas said his position is like that of the farmer who finds that there are several old bulls in the same pasture.

“If you have seen 2,300- or 2,400-pound bulls go after each other, you see why it is best to let them sort it out,” Lucas said.

Boehner noted this week that he disagrees with the Dairy Security Act that Peterson wrote and that the House Agriculture Committee included in the farm bill, but added that it is time to take up the bill on the House floor and offer amendments to change the dairy proposal.

“My job isn’t to impose my personal will on this institution or its members,” Boehner said. “Rather, it’s to ensure we have a fair process and an open debate, leading to a product that reflects the will of our majority, the will of our members, and the will of those we represent. That’s the commitment I intend to keep as this process proceeds.”

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

Peterson said at a National Milk Producers Federation reception on Capitol Hill Tuesday evening that he believes he has the votes to maintain the proposal that the dairy farmers want.

“I think we’re going to beat him,” Peterson said in reference to Boehner. “Right now I’ve got almost unanimous support on the Democratic side.” He added that Republicans would be divided on the dairy issue.

But Peterson warned the dairy farmers that their issue is only one “hurdle” to get the House to pass the overall bill.

“It’s not a sure thing that we’re going to have enough votes to pass the bill,” Peterson said. But he added, “I’m feeling somewhat optimistic.”

Although House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Tuesday that he is uncertain the Republican leadership will bring up the farm bill, Peterson said it is time to act on the bill because the process has been going on “three to four years, too damn long.”