NAPA, CA. August, 7, 2013 – A feisty Rep. Collin Peterson vowed not to give up fighting for a new farm bill even though he told participants attending the 30th International Sweetener Symposium that the process is a “bit like being locked in a horror movie.”
“We have a mess,” the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee emphasized via a telephone broadcast to the group. “What the (GOP) leadership is doing in the House is making it worse, not better.
Peterson devoted most of his comments to criticizing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., whom he has repeatedly accused of trying to destroy the farm bill, while offering support for both House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
“He (Cantor) is the problem and the reason this farm bill is screwed up,” Peterson noted.
“Cantor had been trying for two months to pressure Lucas to do a Republican-only partisan bill.
“Lucas, to his credit, resisted that and we had a bipartisan bill. Then Cantor insisted on this amendment, “Peterson said, referring to Florida Republican Steve Southerland’s amendment that would allow states to impose new work requirements on food stamp recipients and share in the savings.
During the House farm bill debate on June 20, Cantor took the unusual step of speaking in support of the amendment on the House floor- shortly before the final vote on the bill – which ultimately failed.
“It almost looks to me like he was doing that on purpose and he was trying to split this bill up,” Peterson noted.
During the last meeting between both Agriculture Committee Chairmen and Ranking members, Peterson said that “Lucas made it pretty clear that it’s been taken out of his hands. “
“Leadership has hijacked our bill and they don’t seem to care,” Peterson noted.
Cantor blamed Nancy Pelosi and fellow Democrats for the June 20 farm bill defeat, noting that Peterson had earlier promised a few dozen of his fellow Democrats would vote for the bill when, ultimately, none did.
“I’m extremely disappointed that Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leadership have at the last minute chosen to derail years of bipartisan work on the farm bill and related reforms,” he noted on June 20 after the farm bill was defeated on the House floor.
A Cantor aide also rebutted Peterson’s most recent criticism:
"Representative Peterson has continually put politics and self-interest ahead of finding workable solutions that benefit farmers and all Americans,” the aide noted. “ We certainly hope he and Nancy Pelosi abandon this unproductive effort and instead works across the aisle to find common ground. All House Republican leaders are working together with Chairman Lucas and his committee towards this end.”
Boehner has a different view than Cantor of what should be done, Peterson added.
“He’s no friend of farm programs but he’s never stood in the way,” he said about Boehner. “He told me on Friday to ‘be patient’.”
According to Peterson, Boehner told him there will be a vote on the nutrition title of the farm bill when the U.S. House of Representatives returns in early September. Whatever happens with that stand-alone bill with an expected $40 billion in food stamp cuts, Boehner told Peterson that he intends to appoint conferees because he wants the farm bill done by Sept. 30 - when the current one-year extension expires.
Peterson said staff can work over the August recess to “clear the underbrush” of differences between the two bills and conferees can then work on more significant differences.
Responding to a question, Peterson said that shallow loss provisions will be in the final farm bill, “in spite of the fact that I don’t think it makes any sense.”
“Growers will have a choice between a target price program like we have in the House, and a revenue program like they have in the Senate, a shallow loss program like in the Senate and there will probably be a new crop insurance program with a shallow loss option.”
Regardless of Boehner’s plan of action, Peterson said Cantor’s stand-alone nutrition bill with an expected $40 billion in cuts is making the entire process more difficult
“If you have Republicans voting for $40 billion in food stamp cuts and then it comes back after a conference committee with $6 or $8 billion in cuts, I don’t know how Republicans vote for (final passage) after they already voted for the $40 billion,” Peterson explained.
“Then you will need Democrats to pass it, but the problem is, some GOP leaders want only Republican votes or at least a Republican majority.”
Peterson suggested that final farm bill passage might require Democrats to provide at least half of the 218 votes needed for the measure after it comes out of conference.
An aide to Peterson said separately that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told the Minnesota Democrat that she would be able to generate over 100 Democratic votes if the food stamp cuts are closer to the Senate level of $4 billion.
“So how we get to the end game, I don’t know,” Peterson explained.
“For the first time in my career, I don’t know what’s going to happen and I’m not optimistic,” he added, while noting that he is “leaning toward “ an extension.
“Lucas is talking…maybe we should do a two-year extension. I might agree with that, if we don’t get this done this year. “
He noted that many of his constituents will be fine with either a new bill or an extension, because they will have crop insurance and the sugar program. It’s the folks in California, Florida, Arizona or “wherever they will lose some of the things we put in the 2008 farm bill” that will have to apply the pressure on lawmakers.
Peterson, who was first elected in 1990, was asked whether he intends to run for another term and he signaled he’s taking the necessary steps.
“Right now, they are making me so mad, I’m much more likely to run than not.”
He was also quizzed on the current surplus sugar situation in the U.S., the large sugar crop in Mexico and the downward pressure on prices.
Asked what growers should do to help get the farm bill across the finish line, Peterson circled back to the House Majority Leader.
“Take Cantor down to Mexico and have him solve this oversupply situation,” Peterson suggested jokingly. “Keep him down there for six months.”
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