By ANN ALLEN
LEESBURG, Ind. — Shortly after Frank Lucas graduated from Oklahoma State University in 1982, he went to a farm auction with his grandfather. As they were leaving, his father, a fifth-generation Oklahoma farmer from the area John Steinbeck made famous in The Grapes of Wrath, took him aside and said, “Now don’t get carried away at the sale, and don’t let the old man get carried away, either.”
“I’ve never forgotten what he said next,” Lucas said. “He told me to be careful how much I bought and how much I leveraged myself to do it.
Those words are as relevant today as they were then.
“Worst of all, seven years later, I went to another auction – the same farm was being sold at a sheriff’s sale. The young farmer had overspent. He had leveraged himself too much.”
Visiting Tom Farms’ corporate headquarters near Leesburg, Lucas – now Republican chair of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee from Oklahoma – sounded a similar cautionary note about the farm bill as he addressed several hundred people who turned out to support Rep. Jackie Walorski’s (R-Ind.) reelection campaign.
“It shouldn’t be this hard to get it passed,” he said in describing the massive bill as strongly resembling a pie being made by too many cooks, each of whom has their own department and agenda.
A whopping 79.2 percent of the current farm bill is designated for nutrition assistance, with a $743.9 billion price tag, he said. Crop insurance comes in a distant second with 9.9 percent of the budget and a cost of $93 billion, followed by commodity programs costing $40.1 billion, conservation at $56.7 billion and everything else $5.8 billion. “We’re spending more and more,” Lucas said. “We have to cut back.”
He advocates cutting back on the food stamp program, a stance many discredit. “Liberals and the President and even some conservatives think we’re depriving the poor of basic food,” he said. “We want the poor to have food. What we don’t want is for food stamps (SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) to be automatically renewed every year without proof there is a need.
“We don’t want food stamps advertised outside the country the way they are now. We want recipients to be drug-tested. Reforming this program would save billions of dollars. If we don’t make some serious cuts, the national debt will continue to grow and so will entitlements.”
Lucas and other representatives, including Indiana’s Marlin Stutzman, also a Republican, voted to break the bill into two parts in order for SNAP and farm subsidies to be debated separately. There is stiff opposition to this and hopes of passing a farm bill in this session are dwindling, Lucas said.
“We should have had one last year, but we didn’t. But we will get one done, no matter how long it takes.”