WASHINGTON — The House passed a five-year farm bill on Wednesday to revamp crop subsidies, conservation programs and food stamps, handing a major victory to Rep. Frank Lucas, the Oklahoma Republican who worked for years to craft legislation that could gain bipartisan support.
The bill, approved 251 to 166, now goes to the Senate, which is expected to pass it and send it to the president soon. Oklahoma lawmakers split on the measure as Lucas and Reps. Tom Cole, R-Moore, and Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville, voted for it, and Reps. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, and Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, opposed it.
Lucas, a rancher from Cheyenne and the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, had to battle his own party's leaders, Democrats and a wide range of special interest groups to keep the bill moving toward a compromise.
Wednesday, he said the “long and seemingly epic journey” had ended with legislation that improved the farm policies in place since 2008. The Congressional Budget Office, which estimated the bill's cost as if the policies would be in place for 10 years, said it would save $17 billion over that period.
Lucas and other supporters touted the elimination of controversial direct cash payments to landowners — many of whom don't plant crops — and the movement toward crop insurance as the primary safety net for farmers.
Besides crop insurance, the bill introduces new safety net mechanisms to protect farmers when crop prices drop.
Critics said those programs could wind up costing taxpayers far more than estimated.
“Any slight dip (in prices) will mean huge payments going out in the future,'' said Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis.
Robert Hubbard, a Canadian County Republican who announced this week that he would challenge Lucas in the 3rd District, said the estimated savings in the bill were “smoke and mirrors” and that the legislation contained “massive spending increases” compared to the 2008 farm bill.