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Published November 09, 2010, 08:26 AM

Peterson: Republican tide may change farm bill timing

FARGO, N.D. — The Republican broom didn’t take Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., out of office, but he’ll lose his chairmanship of the House Agriculture Committee, and the timing of the farm bill could change.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — The Republican broom didn’t take Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., out of office, but he’ll lose his chairmanship of the House Agriculture Committee, and the timing of the farm bill could change.

He planned to call Republican ranking member Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., Nov. 3 to “congratulate him, tell him I’m ready to work with him.”

Peterson sounds confident he’d be able to operate in the new environment. Practical matters include the changeover in staff. The Democrats had two-thirds of the staff and the Republicans had one-third.

“That’ll flip,” Peterson says. “We have a bunch of people who will have to go, and we’ll have to sort that out.”

Farm bill timing

Peterson says the only significant difference between him and Lucas on the next farm bill is that Lucas wants to wait until 2012 to pass a new multiyear farm bill, while Peterson wanted to get it done in 2011, the year before the existing bill expires.

“I still think that’s a mistake because I think it’ll be worse in 2012 than this year,” Peterson says.

In part, that’s because of the budget situation, and in part it’s because 2012 is a presidential election year.

“That’s his prerogative,” Peterson acknowledges. “He’ll do what he’s going to do.”

Peterson says that while the parties change, it’s a fact that neither can get the bill done without the other’s support.

Peterson says a similar shift occurred in 1995 to ’96.

“When things are good, farmers vote Republican; when things are bad, they vote Democrat,” he says. “That’s true. They forget that things can turn.”

He says farm policy went through the Freedom to Farm concept, which focused on trade and reduced safety net policies.

“Some of us tried to talk them out of that and we ended up spending more money in history trying to bail things out. I think he (Lucas) is going to face pressure from his caucus to do something like that again,” he says. “Times are good, so we don’t need all of this stuff (farm policy support). All of these new people coming in, a lot of them are going to be the type that want to get rid of government programs.”

Changing of the guard

Peterson says he will miss the support of Reps. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., who was “loyal and helpful to me like nobody else,” and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., who were swept up in the Republican tide.

Peterson says he’ll be in contact soon with Rep.-elect Rick Berg, R-N.D.

“We’ve got to work together on (Red River) Valley stuff, on flooding,” he says, “and we have the sugar program to worry about. We’ll have to work together.”

He says he knows and always has gotten along with Gov. John Hoeven, who is the U.S. senator-elect for North Dakota.

Also in play is whether Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., retains is Budget Committee chairmanship, or considers leadership of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Peterson, an accountant who ran against two accountants in his victory, says he’s been contacted by fellow Democrats, asking how he survived the mid-term election. He says polls showed that more than 70 percent of the people trusted him to do the right thing for the district and to be fiscally responsible.

“That’s what insulated me,” Peterson says, although votes against health care reform helped. He says he was attacked for voting for the so-called cap-and-trade bill to limit greenhouse gas emissions, but says he had gotten key concessions to help out agriculture, involving international land use and limiting Environmental Protection Agency control over agriculture.

Peterson says his shift to minority leader on the Agriculture Committee won’t change some things.

“I’ll be able to take care of sugar, that’s not even a question,” Peterson says. “We’ll keep the same program; it doesn’t cost anything. That won’t be hard.”

He says it will be harder to get the $500 million allocated to the Red River Valley for flood control.

“I’ll tell Lucas that’s my price for working with him,” Peterson says. “He needs to get that done because it’ll save the country money. It’ll save us money. It’s the right thing to do.”

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