WASHINGTON D.C., May 17, 2013 - As both legislative chambers develop their own pieces of legislation, the 2013 farm bill continues to gain momentum on Capitol Hill.
Both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have finished markup on their respective pieces of farm bill legislation, and House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said in a conference call May 17 that he was pleased with the way markup resulted in the House Ag Committee.
“At the end of the day, we got a very good vote,” Peterson said after markup. “I was very pleased that we had 13 of the 21 Democrats vote for the bill, which was better than I thought. I think (that) demonstrates there is an ability for us to get Democratic votes in spite of the fact that it’s got cuts to the SNAP program.”
Peterson said the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cuts are very divisive and have the potential to hurt the legislation long term. To get a farm bill passed, he expects both sides to make concessions from positions he calls “ridiculous.”
“Some Democrats have taken a position ... that SNAP can’t be cut one penny. I think that’s a ridiculous position,” Peterson said of party members’ strict objection to any SNAP cuts. “You’ve got people on the other side that want $130 billion in cuts, and that’s ridiculous ... We’ve got to figure out where that balance is and where we get those 218 votes.”
As part of the proposed 2013 Farm Bill, Peterson said it will likely be the end of direct payments. What concerns Peterson is the possibility that those same groups that targeted direct payments will turn their attention to crop insurance. Peterson drew reference to the widespread 2012 drought and “no major call for an ad-hoc disaster program” as proof that the current system is working.
The potential for this debate has led Peterson to draw comparisons between crop insurance and flood insurance. He said the two programs draw a similar level of government support, and if discussion is made on the level of subsidy for crop insurance, he hopes flood insurance is also considered. Peterson hopes people will realize the complex issues tied to crop insurance.
“I think there’s more reason for the government to be behind crop insurance than there is flood insurance because crop insurance supports the food production system - which is a national security issue.” Peterson said. “(Crop insurance) has much bigger implications that whether you’re going to build a mansion on the outer banks that gets wiped out every other year and why the government should subsidize that.”
Aside from SNAP cuts, one of the biggest differences between the House and Senate farm bills is in the tie with conservation compliance to crop insurance. The Senate version has the two issues tied - the House does not. Peterson expects a fight - whether that is on the House floor or in conference - to defend the position of the committee.
Despite the large amount of obstacles yet to overcome, Peterson is still confident and hopeful that a farm bill can be finalized before the August recess.
“It’s been going on for too long, and it’s time we get this done,” Peterson said. “I’m pretty optimistic now that it’s finally going to happen. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re going to at least work through the process.”
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