Lucas says super committee won't cut nutrition programs
By JERRY HAGSTROM
For the Capital Press
WASHINGTON -- The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee said federal budget cuts will likely spare nutrition programs at the expense of USDA commodity and conservation programs.
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said he expects the efforts of a 12-member congressional super committee to focus on programs that have a direct impact on farmers.
"That's just my gut feeling," Lucas told Capital Press after he met with National Farmers Union members Sept. 12.
The debt ceiling-deficit reduction bill established the super committee to try to come up with a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. But if the committee cannot agree on a bill that Congress passes, military and domestic programs will be cut by a total of $1.2 trillion under a process known as sequestration.
Food stamps, along with Social Security and most Medicare payments, are protected from cuts if the super committee is unable to reach agreement and sequestration goes into effect.
The super committee has the authority to cut food stamps along with other entitlement programs as it tries to cut the deficit, but Lucas said he thinks it will leave nutrition spending untouched.
Lucas said nutrition programs, including the supplemental nutrition assistance program known as SNAP (formerly called food stamps), school lunch, the special nutrition program for women, infants and children known as WIC, and commodity distribution programs now total 74 percent of the USDA budget. The commodity, conservation and crop insurance programs make up 18 percent, and all other programs including rural development and research comprise 8 percent of spending at USDA.
Lucas said he is appealing to the super committee members not to "ask us to do three, four times our part," and also to let the Agriculture committees make the decisions.
He said his staff is still trying to figure out exactly what programs besides food stamps would not be subject to cuts. The Conservation Reserve Program contracts would probably be safe because most of those are written on a multiyear basis.