House Ag Committee member seeks guarantee before tackling farm bill

Farm Forum

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Minnesota U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson said on Jan. 2 he’s so upset that Congress passed only a short extension of the 2008 Farm Bill that he won’t work on a new version without assurances from congressional leaders it will get a vote.

The full House never took a floor vote on a five-year farm bill that passed out of the House Agriculture Committee in July with bipartisan support from Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the panel, and its chairman, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla. The plan was projected to reduce spending on Agriculture Department programs by $35 billion over 10 years. But Speaker John Boehner said it didn’t have enough votes to pass because some Republicans wanted to see deeper cuts to food stamps.

Peterson told The Associated Press he and his staff were writing to Boehner and other House leaders expressing frustration over what he called lack of respect for the committee’s hard work. He said he would demand a guarantee that if the committee passes a farm bill in 2013, it will be allowed to come to the floor where representatives can fight out any disagreements over the details.

”If they will not give me that assurance, I am not interested in writing a farm bill,” Peterson said.

Peterson said he discussed his frustrations with Lucas and that Lucas told him he couldn’t write a farm bill without Peterson’s support.

Lucas wasn’t available for an interview but issued a statement saying the extension gives farmers the certainty they need to plan and allows the congressional agriculture committees to keep working on a five-year farm bill. The bill passed on Jan. 1 to avert the tax increases and spending cuts known as the ”fiscal cliff” extends current farm bill programs for just nine months and averts a potential spike in milk prices that could have happened if the current dairy program had been allowed to expire. It does not contain a broader overhaul of dairy policy that Peterson authored, which was in both the House committee’s farm bill and the version that passed the full Senate with bipartisan support in June.

Agriculture committee leaders in both chambers tried to get a comprehensive five-year farm bill along the lines of the House and Senate bills included in the final fiscal deal, but their arguments that it would actually help cut federal spending went nowhere. The committees will have to start over this year.

Peterson predicted Congress may end up passing a series of one-year farm bill extensions if nothing changes.

”All I can say is we did our work. And we were disrespected. And that’s not how government is supposed to operate,” Peterson said.