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Farm bill progress is hopeful

The farm bill saga appears to have taken yet another turn, this time in a positive direction. That’s the assessment of Minnesota 7th District Rep. Collin Peterson, who this week briefed The Forum Editorial Board on the legislation’s sometimes painfully slow progress.

Twelve-term Democrat Peterson, who is arguably the most knowledgeable member of Congress when it comes to farm bills and farm policy, is a member of the House-Senate conference committee that is trying to cobble together a compromise bill that will secure enough votes from the House and Senate to pass. It’s a challenge, to say the least. Peterson is more upbeat about a final bill, but remains concerned a faction in the House could derail the bill.

And therein rests the problem. The House faction is comprised of about 30 tea party-type Republicans, many of whom adhere to an ideological enmity toward any federal farm support legislation. Peterson said that while House and Senate differences over food stamp cuts have received a lot of attention, many House Republicans oppose the bill’s commodity titles — that is the basic farm support core of the legislation. They want to scrap all of it — from disaster aid to crop insurance supports to conservation incentives.

Not all Democrats are on board, particularly those who oppose any changes, however small and reasonable, to the food stamp program. Peterson expects a food stamp reform compromise to be closer to the Senate’s version than the House’s. That means cuts will not be as draconian as food stamp advocates feared.

Peterson said most congressional leaders want to get the farm bill done. There are hurdles, he said, but members of the House and Senate (including Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who is a conferee), are working across party lines to bring a bill to the floor next month. Let’s hope it happens. Producers, farm lenders and the nation’s agri-business sector need the stability a new multi-year farm bill will bring.

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