Lucas vows to fight deep agriculture cuts
Saturday, March 5th 2005, 4:13 pm
News On 6
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Rep. Frank Lucas says farmers are treated unfairly in President Bush's budget and he will fight cuts in agriculture programs that are twice as deep as reductions in other areas.
``I agree that everybody has to do their fair share, but I refuse to accept that agriculture should do twice what everybody else does in the country and I will fight that,'' the Republican congressman said in an interview with The Associated Press.
In other areas, Lucas predicted that Oklahoma military bases would survive the base closing process, saw no consensus this year on a financial fix for Social Security and said he doesn't have any intention of giving up his seat in Congress anytime soon.
Lucas, 42, is in his 11th year in Congress and represents the sprawling 3rd District, which covers much of the state's agriculture areas.
As a member of the House Agriculture Committee and chairman of the subcommittee that deals with conservation issues, he is the congressmen Oklahoma farmers most look to when their interests are threatened.
And he said he has been getting an earful at recent town hall meetings from farmers upset about cuts Bush proposed in crop subsidies and other agriculture programs.
``Last week I did 12 town hall meetings and right along with Social Security, farm programs were the highest topic of importance,'' he said.
He said the Bush budget proposes cuts in most mandatory federal programs by 4 percent, but would slash agriculture programs by 8 percent.
The cuts also threaten Lucas' efforts to get funding to rehabilitate 2,000 low water dams which were built to control flooding in his vast district, much of which is wheat country.
Lucas has a strong conservative record and prides himself as being a member of Congress when balanced budgets were achieved during the late 1990s under President Clinton.
So isn't he supportive of his president's efforts to hold down the growth in the deficit, which climbed dramatically during Bush's first four years in office?
Yes, he says, but not at the expense of an agriculture industry he says has done so much good for the American consumer, producing ``the highest quality fiber at the cheapest prices in the history of the world.''
``American agriculture should not be penalized for having been so efficient,'' Lucas said.
Lucas' optimistic view that Oklahoma's five military installations will be spared during the latest BRAC process is based partly on what he says is a three decades-old effort by Oklahoma congressmen and others to keep state bases relevant to the mission of the nation's military.
``I just think there is a high probability that we will survive unscathed,'' he said, ticking off the merits of Altus Air Force Base and Vance Air Force Base in his district, plus Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Fort Sill Army Base at Lawton and the Army Ammunition Plant at McAlester.
He praised local community efforts to retain those installations and said one thing Oklahoma has going for it is the attitude of its citizens.
He said there are many members of the Pentagon brass who have come through Altus, Vance, Tinker or Fort Sill and ``they like the communities; they understand the strengths of the facilities.
``There are a lot of places around the country where the communities don't want their people. They don't want the military. They don't want the air space issues. They don't want the sound issues. That's not the case in Oklahoma.''
Turning to Social Security, Lucas said he is convinced something has to be done so future generations are not burdened with debt, but he sees no consensus of support for Bush's concepts of private accounts among his constituents.
``There is a huge amount of what I call disdain and mistrust among older constituents, who are at a point of time in their life that they don't want to change,'' he said.
Lucas agrees that balancing the budget should be a top priority and ``is probably the foremost thing addressing the longtime future of Social Security.''
He said he is optimistic a growing economy, coupled with restrained spending, can ease a budget deficit that the Congressional Budget Office projects will hit a record $477 billion this year.
``I think the next three or four years will be more reflective of the Congresses I served in from 1995 to 1998,'' he said. ``There will be a very hawkish focus on getting a grip on spending. And as far as growing during a wartime economy, we have the capacity to do that.
``If you look at the First World War and the Second World War and even the spending patterns of Vietnam, the additional money we spent on that equipment and training and all the things we do, sadly, does drive the economic engine.''
Surprisingly, Lucas said the Iraq war is not a big topic at town hall meetings, ranking below such items as municipal infrastructure. He suspects part of that is due to more optimism among the public after the Jan. 30 Iraqi elections.
He supported Bush's decision to invade Iraq and still thinks it was a proper action, despite the failure to find weapons of mass destruction.
``I don't know what he did with that stuff, but the fact is he was a bad player, he was removed and everybody is the better for it,'' Lucas said of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Looking to his own political future, Lucas said he is moving up the seniority ladder and would like to stay in Congress long enough to become chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
Lucas got only token opposition from an independent candidate in 2004.
He said he was a supporter of a constitutional amendment on term limits but was careful not to sign a pledge that he would stay only three terms as did some other members of the 1994 GOP class of freshman.
``I now like to speak about the importance of seniority and clout,'' Lucas quipped.