House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson made a surprise appearance during Wednesday’s OFBF visit to Capitol Hill. The Chairman interrupted comments from fellow Democrat and Ag Committee member Zach Space (OH-18) to report breaking news on the farm bill:
“I don’t know if I have enough time to explain what’s going on,” the Chairman explained to chuckles from the crowd. “We’re still trying to write a farm bill with money we don’t have,” he said, explaining the holdup from Senate and House Budget writers and appropriators. “I’ve just left a meeting with the Senate conferees, and we told them that if we don’t have an answer by Friday morning on the funding issues, on the tax issues that need to be removed from the bill, and on these jurisdictional issues, the House will move forward with a Baseline Farm Bill.” Explaining that a baseline farm bill meant a bill written with the current baseline and not the additional money originally requested by the House or Senate, the Chairman commented that “if we write a baseline bill, we don’t need all these other people involved muckin’ up our farm bill,” echoing sentiments expressed earlier from House Minority Leader John Boehner that agriculture members wished they’d never involved the other committees on funding issues.
In terms of details, Peterson shared that a baseline bill would contain the House version’s Commodity Title, meaning no “beneficial interest” provisions, raising the loan rate on soybeans and a handful of other commodities, basically extending the current farm bill with a few changes. While there would obviously be reduced funding for conservation, nutrition, and rural development, the Chairman promised that funding reductions to meet baseline would be made equally among the remaining titles of the bill.
In addressing the timeline for completion of the bill, Peterson announced he would be staying in Washington over the Easter recess to complete the bill so the language could be written as soon as the other members returned to town. Other provisions of note include the “fix” of Country of Origin Labeling and Interstate Shipment of Meat, a disaster provision that will be written but not funded, and alterations in crop insurance to “rein in” increased commissions agents have been receiving due to premiums which the Chairman said have doubled in recent years.
To illustrate the seriousness of the situation, Peterson acknowledged that the House came very close on Saturday to push forward with Permanent Law on the farm bill, meaning the 1938-1949 policies that have been established as the “fallback position” should a farm bill not come to fruition. These policies are extremely out of synch with current law, but Peterson said the Speaker of the House is “fed up” with the Senate, and to a lesser extent the Administration, for the holdup on getting a bill completed in a timely manner. “If we’re not done by April 18th, we will have permanent law.”