Peterson: Things are a ‘mess’ in Washington

MARSHALL – Many politicians called the deal to avoid the “fiscal cliff” imperfect legislation but went ahead and voted in support of it anyway to spare the middle class of crippling tax increases. Not U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson.

The veteran congressman and Blue Dog Democrat who serves Minnesota’s 7th District was one of 17 Democrats – and the only one from Minnesota – to vote against the bill, saying what was approved by Congress Tuesday night doesn’t amount to much beyond a short-term solution and worse yet adds to an already massive federal deficit.

“We’re in a bigger mess now than we were before we started,” Peterson told the Independent on Wednesday. “It doesn’t do anything to reduce the deficit, we’re spending money we don’t have. It was a jammed-up deal to fix a problem we caused ourselves. The way we solved it was by not doing what we said we were going to do a year-and-a-half ago, and there’s no way that I could bring myself to support it because it doesn’t really accomplish anything.”

The bill passed in the House by a bipartisan 257-167 vote. It raises tax rates on incomes over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples – higher than the $200,000 and $250,000 that President Barack Obama desired. The bill was approved by the Senate on an 89-8 vote early Tuesday.

Peterson called the agreement to avoid the “fiscal cliff” a political solution and said it doesn’t do anything to fix the nation’s fiscal problems. And he said it “totally screwed up the farm situation to the point where I’m not sure we’ll have a farm bill ever.”

Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, had long opposed a short-term extension of the 2008 farm bill that became part of the deal. He wanted a new five-year farm bill to be part of the plan, along with dairy policy reforms he authored that did not make it into the bill.

He showed little optimism in September about a new farm bill passing and said an extension would be the equivalent of putting off the issue for another year.

But that’s exactly what happened.

Leaders in the House and Senate had previously agreed to a one-year extension of the farm bill, which, if nothing else, prevented the government from reverting to a 1948 formula for calculating milk price supports. To that, Peterson scoffed, saying $7 milk was blown out of proportion by the national media.

“(The president) got freaked out about news stories about $7 milk, so he says, ‘I don’t care what you do about the farm stuff, just don’t let milk go up.’ So he turned it over to (Senate Minority Leader Mitch) McConnell and he turned it over to the Senate where you had people who had no idea what they were doing. Milk was not going to go to $7 probably within six months. It was all ginned up by a number of TV reporters who didn’t know what they were talking about,” he said.

Instead of just extending current dairy policy, the extension bill includes an overhaul of dairy programs that was in both the Senate and House committee bills. The new dairy programs include a new, voluntary insurance program for dairy producers. Those who choose that new program would also have to participate in a market stabilization program that could dictate production cuts when oversupply drives down prices.

Peterson said while the extension was a victory for crop farmers because they can keep their direct payments, it’s a major defeat for dairy farmers – the one group he said really needed something to be done.

“When these prices collapse the next time – and they will, it’s just a question of when, not if – there’s won’t be any help to get through it,” said Peterson.

House Speaker John Boehner had balked at bringing up a farm bill, the Associated Press reported, because of disagreement in his caucus over how much money should be cut from food stamps, which make up roughly 80 percent of the half-trillion-dollar bill’s cost over five years.

Peterson, who starts his 23rd year in Congress this week, calls the current state of Congress the biggest “mess” he has seen in his career.

“This all became about tax cuts and not about getting our fiscal house in order,” he said. “It became a political deal over tax cuts. It could’ve been done a long time ago, but that’s not how things operate out here.”