NAPA, Calif. — If a farm bill is going to pass, more pressure must come from states that produce non-commodity crops.
House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said in a telephone conference Wednesday that corn, wheat and sugar farmer are fine with an extension, but another extension does not cover programs important to specialty crops.
“Pressure is going to have to come from California, Florida, Arizona, New York that are going to lose the things that I was able to put into the ’08 bill,” he said, but that were not part of the extension. “A lot of those states — that’s where we have gotten a lot of the opposition,” he noted.
He also said he is so annoyed by Republican pressures on him that he is inclined to run for re-election in 2014, even though he has talked about retiring.
“I had no idea when we wrote the ’08 bill it was going to be a 10-year bill,” Peterson said in a call to the nation’s beet and sugar cane farmers, gathered here for the American Sugar Alliance’s International Sweetener Symposium.
Asked whether he would run again, Peterson said “I am doing all the things you need to run again.”
Referring to Republican efforts to mount a campaign against him, he said, “These guys are irritating the heck out of me. They are being so stupid. They are making me mad so I am much more likely to run that not.”
He also said that the district reapportionment after the 2010 Census makes it difficult for the Democrats to retake control of the House, but “the potential is there that they could screw us up so much that we get the majority. It is possible that we [the Democrats] will be writing the bill in the next Congress.”
“If you can’t do a farm bill, how will you do immigration reform, appropriations, tax reform?,” Peterson said. “It doesn’t seem to bother the majority that this stuff isn’t going to get done.”
On the prospects for the farm bill, Peterson expressed intense frustration over the role that House Major Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has played in the process.
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“If I could read Eric Cantor’s mind, I’d have a better idea.,” Peterson said.
He said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told him as Congress left Washington for a five-week recess that he expects to bring up the nutrition bill immediately when the House returns on September 9, appoint conferees the next day and finish the bill before September 30 when the current farm bill expires.
But, Peterson added, he doesn’t know whether Boehner can live up to that because “the leadership of the House is not working in concert. You don’t know who is going to be in charge, to have the final say.”
Cantor had been pushing House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., for two months to split the farm program and the nutrition title into two bills, but Lucas resisted, Peterson said. Then Cantor developed his amendment that would affect the work requirements for participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP or food stamps, and convinced Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla, to introduce it, Peterson added.
“Boehner is obviously no friend of farm programs, but has not stood in the way of what is going on in the committee,” Peterson said.
If the House passes a nutrition bill that cuts $40 billion from food stamps, that will make conference with the Senate, which has cut food stamps by $4 billion, and a vote on a conference report in the House “problematic,” Peterson said.
If the conference report cuts food stamps by $8 billion to $10 billion, he cannot imagine a lot of House Republicans voting for it, he said. That would mean a lot of Democrats would have to vote for it, and Peterson said he does not know if Boehner will bring to the floor a bill that is not supported by a majority of the House Republicans.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has promised to round up Democratic votes if the bill sticks close to the $4 billion Senate cut, Peterson said.
The Republicans, Peterson, are “again going off on placating people” and are more worried about the Club for Growth and Heritage Action running candidates against them in primaries than they are about their own constituents.
On the food stamp cuts, he said, “This is ideology run amuck.” Anyone who has looked at this, he said, “knows that this is right-wing nonsense.”
“For the first time in my career I don’t know what is going to happen,” Peterson said. “I am not optimistic. I do not see the end game right now.”
The farm bill could run out of time as the budget battle begins, he added. “We are probably going to end up with an extension, which is not a good outcome.”
Although Senate leaders have said they will not pass an extension, “if milk goes to $39 per hundredweight, you know what is going to happen,” Peterson said. Senators, he said, “can huff and puff,” but they will pass an extension to avoid high milk prices.
Lucas has suggested a two-year extension, and he added that he does not think a farm bill can be finished in an election year.
But he said, “Lucas and I are not giving up. We are trying to push things as best we can to get this resolved.”
During the last meeting of the principals, Peterson said, Lucas made it clear that a lot has been taken out of his hands.
The “shallow loss” program for commodity crop growers would be in a final farm bill “in spite of the fact that I don’t think it makes much sense,” Peterson said, adding that there will also be a target price program.
Peterson also said it does “not make sense” to give foreign sugar growers more access to the United States when there is a sugar surplus. He noted that the Obama administration still does not have trade promotion authority, also known as fast-track trade negotiating authority, and said, “I am not going to sign on to any of that” until he has assurance about how sugar, dairy and rice will be handled.
Asked what the sugar growers could do to push the farm bill forward, Peterson said they should take Cantor down to Mexico and have him solve the oversupply situation, and “keep him down there for six months or so.”
“He is the problem and the reason this farm bill is screwed up,” Peterson said.
The current farm bill situation, Peterson concluded, “is like being locked into a horror movie.”
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