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A new farm bill in 2013? Too early to tell

By Janet Kubat Willette
jkubat@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 02/05/2013 4:19 PM

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WASHINGTON — Lawmakers narrowly managed to avoid going over the fiscal cliff on Jan. 1, but their solution is yet another short-term fix to a long-term problem.

Minnesota's delegation came down along party lines on the vote, with two exceptions — Republican John Kline voted yes and Democrat Collin Peterson voted no.

Democratic Reps. Tim Walz, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison and Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken voted yes while Republican Reps. Erik Paulsen, Michele Bachmann and Chip Cravaack voted no.

Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House agriculture committee, called the final deal a joke, pointing to Congressional Budget Office calculations that the deal will add nearly $4 trillion to the federal deficit over the next decade, compared with what would have happened if Congress had done nothing and let taxes increase.

"We can't keep spending money we don't have," Peterson told The Associated Press last week.

The final deal negotiated in the wee hours before the nation went over the fiscal cliff delays until March 1 the sequester that was set to take effect Jan. 1.

Peterson said the New Year's deal just delays the inevitable discussion of spending cuts.

"If you think this was something," Peterson said, "wait 'til you see what happens two or three months from now."

In a statement, Kline called on President Obama to work with Congress to cut spending.

"While I am pleased tax relief for the middle class and small businesses is made permanent by this bipartisan legislation, the sobering reality is our nation remains in a debt crisis caused by reckless, runaway spending that is killing jobs and threatening the future of our children and grandchildren," he said.

The deal also included a nine-month extension of the 2008 farm bill, including direct payments, which were not included in either the Senate or House agriculture committee version of the 2012 farm bill. This deal was negotiated by Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and Senate Minority Leader.

Peterson has long opposed an extension of the 2008 farm bill. The Senate passed a new five-year farm bill last summer and the House agriculture committee passed one as well, but it was never brought to the House floor for a vote.

Peterson has said he will not begin working on a new farm bill unless he has assurances from leadership that it will be brought up on the floor.

On Jan. 3, Peterson sent letters to House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor asking for a written commitment that the leadership will find floor time for a new five-year farm bill.

"At this point, however, I see no reason why the House agriculture committee should undertake the fool's errand to craft another long-term farm bill if the Republican leadership refuses to give any assurances that our bipartisan work will be considered," Peterson wrote in his letter to Boehner. "You and your leadership team seem very content with simply extending the 2008 farm bill year after year without making any effort at reform, achieving savings and efficiencies or improving the farm safety net for rural America. If that is your goal, I will certainly accommodate you."

Minnesota agricultural leaders said ag leaders in Congress were "thrown under the bus" by the final deal that extends the farm bill for nine months without any of the reforms the community had put forward.

Put yourself in their shoes, Minnesota Farm Bureau president Kevin Paap said. Imagine you'd spent two years working on a project, working with a variety of groups to reach a consensus, put the final project together and turned it into your boss. After turning it in, your boss tells you he's not going to use your project in favor of something he did himself. Then, a few days later he comes back and says he'll need you to start over and do the same project again. What would your response be?

Minnesota Farmers Union president Doug Peterson said he can appreciate Collin Peterson's attitude that they will not move forward with writing another farm bill — the third attempt at writing a 2012 farm bill — without assurances from leadership and the administration.

In baseball, it's three strikes and you're out. Farm legislators are up for the third strike and they'll have to hit a home run this time, Doug Peterson said. They'll have to parlay all of their influence, tenure and seniority and use it to get a farm bill done.