Reps. Tom Cole, R-Moore, and Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, were part of the speech-making that opened negotiations Wednesday on two of the most serious matters facing Congress now: the budget for the current fiscal year and the farm bill. Cole is one of the House Republican negotiators on the conference committee that will decide the budget. Lucas is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and a lead negotiator on the long overdue farm bill. The initial meetings were open to the public and devoted to comments from lawmakers. In truth, much of the real work will likely be done behind closed doors.
Here are the opening statements from the two Oklahomans:
Mr. Chairman, the challenges we face on this conference committee are significant. According to the latest CBO long-term budget outlook, “Between 2009 and 2012, the federal government recorded the largest budget deficits relative to the size of the economy since 1946. Federal debt held by the public is now about 73 percent of…GDP. That percentage is higher than at any point in U.S. history except a brief period around World War II, and it is twice the percentage at the end of 2007.” And our nation’s debt will continue to rise, with no end in sight, if Congress does not act.
Mr. Chairman, there is a real opportunity here to show the American people that we can set aside our differences and negotiate long-term reforms. We can succeed where the supercommittee and other bipartisan working groups have failed. But, it will not be easy. My friends in the other body have a very different proposal from the House position, one that significantly raises taxes, continues funding of the Affordable Care Act, and, while stabilizing the debt as a percentage of GDP, basically accepts the over $17 trillion of debt already on the books.
At the same time, I’m sure there are a number of things in our budget proposal the Senate finds objectionable, like block granting Medicaid, premium support for Medicare and balancing the budget within 10 years.
I’m hopeful that this committee can come to agreement on eliminating the damaging, senseless cuts of sequester by replacing them with changes to mandatory spending, like those suggested by President Obama.
Mr. Chairman, we must break the pattern of living from crisis to crisis and relying solely on short-term funding agreements. It has become a dangerous, common place habit since the last time both chambers agreed on a budget in 2009.
We need to provide the Appropriations Committee with certainty, so they can craft bills that have the possibility of becoming law. And we must find ways to deal with our growing debt.
There is much work ahead to improve our economic situation and solve our current fiscal crisis. And I am hopeful that we can find common sense reforms that improve our economic outlook and provide a better future for our children and grandchildren. But negotiations and reforms don’t end here in this committee. This is the starting point that encourages Congress to acknowledge and address our debt.
As the Appropriations Committee has demonstrated, we can cut discretionary spending. In fact, we have cut discretionary spending for the last three years straight, a feat not accomplished since the 1940s. But, Mr. Chairman, with all due respect, it is time for the Ways and Means and Finance Committees to do the same. As I am sure you are aware, mandatory spending programs and net interest on the debt comprise fully three-fourths of all federal spending. At the same time, the over 200 tax expenditures amount to more than $12 trillion over the 10-year budget window. I find it quite hard to believe that every one of these expenditures is necessary or could not be limited in some manner.
Mr. Chairman, I’ve been quoted saying that “revenue should be on the table” in the course of this conference committee. And I believe that it should but not in the way some of my friends from the other side suggest. I think tax rates are already extraordinarily high for hardworking American families; however, there are a number of pro-growth policies that, if enacted, would generate significant revenues for the federal government and grow our economy. Policies like repatriation of corporate profits from overseas, expanded oil and gas exploration both offshore and on federal land, one-time federal asset sales and the like.
More revenue doesn’t and shouldn’t mean higher taxes. At the same time, I believe this committee should set forth a path to allow for expedited consideration of a tax reform package. It has been over 25 years since we have taken a comprehensive look at our tax code. In that time, the fundamental nature of our economy has changed. It is important that our tax code now reflect the priorities of the 21st century.
Americans want solutions that reduce the deficit, overhaul the current tax system, create more jobs, spur economic growth and preserve the full faith and credit of the United States.
The English statesman and political philosopher, Edmond Burke, once said, “All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.” While Republicans maintained their majority in the House in the last election, Democrats maintained their majority in the Senate. And President Obama was reelected. No one party will get everything it wants. And no side or branch of government can dictate to the other.
Sadly, “compromise” has become a dirty word in Washington; however, it is even more necessary in divided government. Otherwise, the American people are the ones who lose. Now is the time for us to show the American people that, even in divided government, we can find ways to function, achieve common ground and make all voices heard and considered.
I look forward to working with my friends in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle to find common ground where we can avoid a debt path which CBO calls “unsustainable indefinitely.”
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.