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Published August 05, 2009, 10:22 AM

Farm bill and the economy key issues of debate at this year’s Farmfest

28th annual farm show kicked off Tuesday morning
Serving in Congress has been like “drinking from a fire hose” since the new farm bill became law last May, Rep. Collin Peterson said Tuesday at Farmfest.

By: Gretchen Schlosser, West Central Tribune

GILFILLAN — Serving in Congress has been like “drinking from a fire hose” since the new farm bill became law last May, Rep. Collin Peterson said Tuesday at Farmfest.

The 28th annual farm show kicked off Tuesday morning and Peterson and Rep. Tim Walz, both Democrats, kept the rapid-fire pace up by discussing the economy, government stimulus actions, health care, the economy and cap-and-trade legislation under the big forum tent. The congressmen were not joined by Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, as the Senate continues to meet this week.

Peterson, the chair of the House Ag Committee, does not expect the pace to slow, as lawmak-ers continue to grapple with economy and health care regulation bills.

“We’ve been very busy, and I expect to be in the fall,” Peterson said.

Walz, who was a teacher in Mankato before being elected in Minnesota’s First District, agreed with Peterson on the rapid pace of legislation. “Thank God I supervised the lunchroom for 20 years. I’m prepared for total chaos,” he said.

Peterson and Walz, also an agriculture committee member, haven’t been directly involved in the health care regulation debate, but are meeting with stakeholders during the August recess.

“I’ll see if there’s anything I can support,” Peterson said, adding that none of the four bills that have been introduced and the one pending introduction have his support yet.

Change, transparency and market reform in health care are needed, Walz said, stressing that medical care decisions under new health care regulations must remain between a patient and their doctor. “This (legislation) is to bring market reform,” he said. “No market can function without referees.”

Both representatives, and the rest of the Minnesota delegation, just last week sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking to equalize the Medicare reimbursement policy and not base future policy on the discrepancy. Peterson said that Minnesota gets only $5,300 per participant, while other states receive as much as $16,000.

“We can’t not do anything,” Peterson said. “We must fix it because this Medicare thing will cost us money.”

On the economy

“We are in relatively good shape,” Peterson said, noting that dairy and pork producers are continuing to face challenging times. “Our unemployment is half it is in other places.”

Peterson didn’t support the bank or automotive bailouts and sees no justification for closing car dealerships, which he said will not help automakers, “but will hurt towns like Redwood Falls and Crookston.”

On cap and trade

The real cost to agricultural production by the new cap-and-trade legislation, and its efforts to address climate change, is troubling, Peterson says.

Cap and trade refers to a policy of capping emissions but providing some flexibility in com-plying with the cap, including the option to “trade” — buy and sell — allowances under the cap.

Agricultural economists have evaluated and estimated the costs to be somewhere between no cost and a 4.5 percent increase under the House-passed legislation, Peterson said.

When asked if the Senate legislation, yet to be considered, would be similar to the House bill, Peterson laughed and said, “I have no idea. The Senate does as the Senate does.”

Farmers are likely exposed to much more cost change due to speculation by investors in the oil market than from the cap-and-trade legislation, Walz said. He noted that diesel fuel was up 41 cents a gallon since it passed the House. “You are under a lot more pressure from specula-tors than under this bill,” he said.

It’s a messy process

Walz asked constituents to engage themselves in the legislative process, adding that key is-sues like health care regulation cannot be a win-lose situation.

“These bills are not done, this is a messy, democratic process,” he said. “It’s not an ‘I win and you lose’ situation, we have to all win.”

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