Peterson: ‘On a path’ to get farm bill done

MARSHALL – DFL U.S. Congressman Collin Peterson of Minnesota’s 7th District is anything but excited about the House’s passage of a farm bill extension Thursday, but a Friday-morning committee meeting did give him some reason for optimism over passage of an overdue farm bill.

Peterson, the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, told the Independent on Friday the idea of an extension does little, if nothing, to resolve the issue.

“It’s unnecessary,” he said. “It’s not going anyplace, and it doesn’t need to. It’s another unnecessary distraction.”

The Republican-controlled House passed the short-term extension over fears that the expiration of dairy subsidies at the end of the year will cause milk prices to go up. The Associated Press reported Thursday that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack assured Congress that wouldn’t happen before the end of January. An extension would stretch some provisions of the last farm bill into early 2014.

Peterson downplayed the threat of milk prices rising at the end of the year if a farm bill isn’t passed soon.

“We have some leadership people who don’t understand farm policy who are buying into this idea about a dairy cliff,” he said. (Milk prices) are not going up.”

The extension is destined to fail in the Democrat-controlled Senate, which, like the House, has crafted its own version of a new farm bill that would be the first new bill enacted since 2008 – a deal that expired in September 2012 but was extended until the end of September of this year.

However, the House and Senate versions carry some stark differences, including over the issue of crop subsidies and how much to cut food stamps.

Peterson, along with fellow Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., sits on the House-Senate Conference Committee that is working to craft a new five-year farm bill. The committee, headed by Peterson, Rep. Frank Lucas, R.-Okla., and Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D.-Mich., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., first met Oct. 28. The four leaders of the committee met Friday morning, and Peterson left the meeting with a sense of cautious optimism. Peterson was mum about Friday morning’s negotiations, saying only that the committee had negotiations “down to one or two” issues and that he has been assigned to handle one of them.

“Where we’re at now is we’re in the range to get this done,” Peterson said. “The four of us are meeting and trying to agree on a framework by next week and have the staff get everything drafted and nailed down by the time we come back in January. It’s been a frustrating situation, but we’re on a path now to get this done. We’re trying to finish it out.”