WASHINGTON – As ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota would normally be in the negotiating mix on a federal farm bill that’s now passed both the House and Senate.
But Peterson said he’s out of the loop after a falling-out with the committee’s Republican chairman over the House’s move to expand work requirements for food-stamp recipients, which passed that chamber with only GOP votes. “You tell me,” Peterson said, when asked this week about the status of the bill.
The Senate last week passed a farm bill by a wide bipartisan vote of 86-11, without the contentious changes to federal food-stamp policy that are part of the measure the House passed in June. Some lawmakers hope to reconcile the two when they return to Washington next week and finish before the August recess. But Peterson questioned whether the Senate will give in to the push by Rep. Mike Conaway to make major changes to the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP).
“He decided to go off on his right-wing fantasy, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” Peterson said. “If that’s what he’s going to do, there’s no way I can negotiate with him.”
The last farm bill, which delivered $867 billion in federal benefits to farm and food programs, expires on Sept. 30. That comes as farmers struggle with low commodity prices and face new challenges in international trade.
Conaway and other Republicans in the House have said they want to move more recipients of SNAP into the workforce. Currently, able-boded people without dependents and who are between ages 18-49 are required to work; the legislation would raise that age to 59.
Minnesota’s three Republican House members all voted for bill, while its five Democrats voted against it. Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, both members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, backed their own chamber’s version.
Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap said he was encouraged to see the Senate bill pass with such strong bipartisan support, and would like to see lawmakers come to an agreement before the August recess.
“We need a farm bill now more than ever with our serious economic challenges,” said Paap. “We’ve got low commodity prices that are causing decade lows in farm incomes.”
Paap noted that soybean prices recently dropped to their lowest level since 2009. “The closer we get to an election, the harder it is to work in a bipartisan way to put good legislation together — that’s why we’re urging that this happens sooner vs. later.”
Klobuchar noted the strong bipartisan vote for the Senate farm bill.
“In the Senate, we had tons of Republicans vote for our version, including the Republican majority leader, because we were able to find cuts in other ways … and not make draconian cuts to the nutrition programs,” Klobuchar said.
She added: “My belief is that when our farmers are facing low prices, retaliatory tariffs and trade issues that we need some consistency and stability coming out of Washington. And that’s what the Senate farm bill offers.”
The Senate’s version would stop farm subsidy payments to people who are not “actively engaged” in farming. The bill also increases funding for trade promotion and lowers the adjusted gross income limit at which farmers stop being eligible for Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) subsidies from $900,000 to $700,000.
Dale Hinckley is hopeful about a farm bill amendment sponsored by Klobuchar that would refund excess money from premiums paid by dairy farmers for the Department of Agriculture’s Margin Protection Program. The senator recently visited the farm he co-owns in Chatfield.
“It was almost like a tax on the farmer instead of a protection type program, and if we can get some of those premiums back, of course that will help dairy men and women pay some of their bills,” said Hinckley.
Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, a Republican who voted for the House measure, said in a statement that he’s hopeful that the final bill will include new and improved risk management tools for dairy producers, a strong crop insurance program, improved commodity risk management programs, such as Agricultural Risk Coverage, and efforts to better respond to emerging diseases that can devastate livestock producers.
Emmer is also hoping the final compromise bill will include what he’s dubbed the STRESS Act, a measure he sponsored to reauthorize the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, which provides mental health resources for farmers and agriculture workers.
Peterson said the House had passed hundreds of bills that never got taken up in the Senate “because they did exactly the same thing they did here with the farm bill, and the bills just died in the Senate. If they insist on the food stamp stuff there won’t be a farm bill — it’s that simple.”