Peterson: Time to focus on farm bill

MARSHALL – Now that the country has avoided crashing into the debt ceiling – for the time being – and the partial federal government shutdown has been lifted, District 7 Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said the farm bill iron is hot and it’s time to strike.

“We’ve gotta get this done,” Peterson said. “It should’ve been done before now. Hopefully we can get everyone focused and get this thing finished. It’s been dragging on too long.”

President Barack Obama signed an 11th-hour deal Thursday to end the shutdown and quell the tense political standoff that seemingly grew more contentious by the day. The House passed its measure on a 285-144 vote after the Democratic-led Senate passed its on an 81-18 vote. On Thursday federal employees were back on the job for the first time in more than two weeks.

The agreement would extend the nation’s borrowing authority until Feb. 7, although the U.S. Treasury Department would be able to temporarily extend its borrowing capacity beyond that date if Congress failed to act early next year.

The agreement also funds government agencies until Jan. 15, when another funding bill will be needed, and Peterson and his political colleagues might be back in the same position they were before Thursday.

Peterson, who along with fellow Rep. Tim Walz and Sen. Amy Klobuchar sit on the House-Senate Conference Committee that will work to craft a new five-year farm bill, told the Independent on Friday that now is the time to get a new bill put together.

The committee, headed by Peterson, Rep. Frank Lucas, R.-Okla., and Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D.-Mich., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., will have its first formal meeting Oct. 28. Peterson said no business will be done on that day other than to let committee members make their speeches. He said the majority of the work will be done between the four principals.

There are deep divisions between the House and Senate on farm bill issues such as food stamps, and Peterson knows much work lies ahead.

“We’ve got a lot of issues – commodity entitlements, food stamps, dairy, and we’ve gotta get them worked out,” Peterson said. “The four of us are committed to getting this thing done, but we have some tough negotiating to do to get things resolved. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Concerning all that has happened in Washington since the beginning of the month when the shutdown went into effect, Peterson said he hopes politicians have learned their lessons and realize that despite having strong feelings on certain issues, shutting down the government and threatening default is not the way to get things done.

“I hope people have come away from this with the realization that this is not the best way to handle things,” he said. “It’s hard to say how this is going to play out; there will be a budget committee conference to work out a long-term budget, and hopefully they will. There’s going to be some differences that will be difficult to bridge, but at least they’ll be talking, which is a positive.”

Peterson said he’s aware of Congress’ dismal approval rating, but doesn’t pay much attention to it. He was a member of Congress during the shutdown of 1995-96 and said he doesn’t pick up on the negative vibe when he returns to his home state.

“We weren’t quite as hated back then, but it was pretty close,” he said. “A lot of people are upset with Congress, but I don’t pick that up from people. They actually feel sorry for me that I have to put up with it. ‘It’s my job,’ I tell them.”

Peterson said isn’t concerned about pointing fingers or who is to blame for the shutdown; he said the voting public will have to decide who they are most upset with and they don’t think “behaved properly. That’s not for me to tell people. People have to understand they’re not going to get their way 100 percent of the time. You don’t get your way 100 percent of the time in anything in this life.”

Peterson hasn’t committed to running again in 2014 but said he’s doing everything he needs to do to prepare for another run.

“I always wait until January or February to make my final decision and will do that again,” he said. “First thing is, we’ve got to get this farm bill done. And hopefully we’ll figure some better way to come together on the budget and other issues. The way I decide is whether I think my running again can be a benefit to the people of my district and the people of this country – if I’ve got something to bring to the table I think is positive.”