Finding a middle ground

GILFILLAN ESTATE – It’s all about compromise. If legislators would drop their hard lines and meet in the middle, the farm bill would get passed with no problem, said panel members Tuesday morning at this year’s 32nd annual Farm Fest at the Gilfillan Estate near Redwood Falls.

The three-day agribusiness event also included U.S. Sen. Al Franken who was scheduled to speak later in the day on wind energy issues.

U.S. House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., led off a panel which discussed the topic, “Reaching an Endpoint on a New Farm Bill.”

Peterson said he wasn’t sure when the end point would be.

“To be honest, I don’t know,” he said.

Other panel members were Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., member of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee; Roger Johnson, president, National Farmers Union; Dale Moore, public policy director, American Farm Bureau; and Bob Worth, vice president, American Soybean Association.

The panel was moderated by Lynn Ketelsen of the Linder Farm Network.

Ketelsen said in more than 35 years of covering farm issues, “this (year’s farm bill) is the most interesting. I don’t know how it’s going to end.”

Moore thought this year’s battle was more than interesting – “This truly is one of the strangest farm bill processes I’ve been a part of,” he said.

Congress has to pass a farm bill before agriculture programs expire on Sept. 30.

“The drop dead date is the first of the year,” said Johnson.

Members will reconvene after Labor Day and have nine working days to meet.

A major sticking point is the food support program – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. House leaders want to cut $40 billion from the food stamp program.

“The Senate is not going to go along with that,” Peterson said. “The president is not going to go along with that.”

Peterson said the agriculture committee members drafted a bipartisan bill.

“We offered a $16 billion reduction in food support or SNAP,” he said. “I caught a lot of grief over that, but I was very proud to get 13 out of 21 Democrats to vote for that. When we got to the floor, all of a sudden they wanted a work requirement even though 93 percent on SNAP are working and among the rest are over 65 and under 15. If they would just leave us alone, leave it to the agriculture committee, we could get it done.”

Walz said compromise is possible.

“We can find those commonalities,” he said. “We can work together to find common interests. No one is more bipartisan than Collin Peterson. Compromise is not a dirty word. It’s the glue that holds the democracy together. I’m just baffled.”

Panelists said the tea party wing of the Republican party was a road block to getting things done.

“The right wing is the tail that’s wagging the dog right now,” said Johnson.

Peterson said he has a problem with the majority leader of Congress, Eric Cantor.

“We are not on the same page,” he said. “We are working at cross purposes. I’m sorry but I don’t get along with that guy. I’m not blaming anybody. It is what it is.”

Worth said he is a third generation farmer from Lake Benton.

“My son is farming so that’s a fourth generation,” he said. “I have a grandson, and I hope he’s a fifth generation farmer. Thank you to representatives Peterson and Walz for your hard work in Washington. We need a farm bill. Not for me, but for the next generation.”