'People blew it up on purpose'

CROOKSTON, Minn. -- U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson says changes to food stamps sabotaged a new farm bill in the House of Representatives, but he is pushing for new legislation.

CROOKSTON, Minn. -- U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson says changes to food stamps sabotaged a new farm bill in the House of Representatives, but he is pushing for new legislation.

Dozens of area residents gathered July 1 at the University of Minnesota-Crookston campus to visit with politicians about the farm bill, which was recently voted down in the House.

Peterson, D-Minn., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., gave the crowd an update about the bill and answered questions from the audience.

Peterson is the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, while Klobuchar sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee. The Senate passed its version of the farm bill in June, while the House voted down the farm bill 10 days later.

The current federal farm legislation in place is set to expire on Sept. 30.


"It's a mess," says Peterson, who voted for the House version of the bill.

If no new law is passed before the deadline, or no extension of the deadline is issued, a farm bill from 1949 will be reinstated.

Both Peterson and Klobuchar warn of the harm that the old bill would have today.


According to Peterson, the controversy about the bill came in the eleventh hour.

"We had the votes to pass this bill," he says. "People blew it up on purpose."

Last minute additions to the bill involving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food stamps to needy citizens, were among biggest concerns to those who voted against the bill.

The bill in the House included heavy cuts to the food stamp program.


Peterson says the amendments that killed the bill were indirectly because of his actions.

He said that he made a deal with Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who is the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, to include the food stamp cuts in the bill with the understanding that they would be removed in conference after the bill had passed the House.

But after some behind-the-scenes tactics by Lucas and a few other Congress members, Peterson says his allies supporting the bill were turned against him, and he was then accused of lying about his intentions to pass the bill.

He says passing a new bill is his main focus now.

One option that Congress has is to split the bill, making the food stamp cuts a separate bill from the production agriculture legislation.

"If they split the bill, I will vote against the food stamp part of it," Peterson says.

But he thinks splitting the bill is not the right option, because the farm legislation still might not pass.



"Personally, I feel the frustration that the representatives voiced," says Marvin Zutz of the Minnesota Barley Research and Promotion Council. "We're hoping they can get something done that works for the nation."

Ken Morgan, a farm broadcaster from Emerado, N.D., says the "third-graders" in Congress should act quickly to make progress.

"You've got to pass something," Morgan says. "It'll change in conference no matter you do with it. So pass something. Give it a shot."

But Klobuchar offers bits of optimism.

"There are people who are willing to stand next to people they don't always agree with to do important things that are right for the country, even though it may hurt them politically," she says.

She says Congress has real potential to think clearly and come up with a compromise that won't endanger the nation's farmers.

"Amy's right," Peterson says. "But I don't think it's going to happen."

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