House ranking member pitches reviving supercommittee plan

Dec 9, 2011
by DTN

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-MN, wants Congress to consider adding the farm bill, which was prepared for the failed supercommittee on deficit reduction, to a bill to pay for an extension of payroll tax relief and unemployment insurance and to prevent doctors who take Medicare patients from seeing a cut in their payments.

In a speech last Tuesday, Peterson said the deal would allow use of the $23 billion in agricultural cuts over 10 years to offset the payroll and unemployment costs. In return, lawmakers would pass the new farm bill and not make the agriculture budget subject to the across-the-board cuts that are supposed to go into effect in 2013 because the supercommittee was unable to reach agreement.

It’s unclear whether Peterson’s proposal is realistic. House Republican leaders are expected to outline a proposal to members on the payroll tax bill at a meeting Wednesday, the National Journal reported late Tuesday.

Peterson said he had talked to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-OK, about the idea. “I think Frank is open to it,” Peterson said. Lucas’ office did not return a request for comment on Peterson’s proposal.

Peterson’s proposal does run counter to comments made by Lucas and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, who have said the farmbill process will start back up in late January with new rounds of hearings.

Peterson added he had not talked to Stabenow about adding the farm bill to the payroll tax bill. Peterson did not mention Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Pat Roberts, R-KS.

“We’re not going to do anything until we see what happens over the next couple weeks,” Peterson said, adding that he has not discussed the idea with House leaders. “It’s a slim chance, but they’re going to be scrambling [for offsets],” he said.

Peterson noted that while he is not en thusiastic about extending the payroll tax and the other provisions in the bill, adding the farm bill would mean that the 46 members of the House Agriculture Committee would have to consider voting for it.

Peterson added that to get serious about deficit reduction, perhaps Congress should do nothing and let various provisions expire, including the Bush tax cuts.

Discussing the provisions of the proposal prepared for the supercommittee, Peterson said the process “wasn’t the most pretty,” but he was generally pleased with the result. “We’ve got the policy, it’s solid.”

Peterson confirmed that he had done major work on the dairy and conservation titles. “Members were talked to,” he said. “This wasn’t done in a vacuum.”

He also noted that he, Stabenow, Lucas and Roberts have heard discussions of these issues “100 times.”

Peterson said he will ask Lucas to release the dairy title that was in the bill because he believes it will not be subject to so much criticism if people have a chance to read it.

Some commodity group leaders’ concerns that high target prices will cause shifts in production are not “a huge deal,” Peterson said. “The southerners are happy. The midwesterners are fighting among themselves.”

Although there have been questions raised about whether Republican freshmen on the House Agriculture Committee will support the bill, Peterson said he believes that the committee will produce “a good bill.”

But he said the bill that would come out of the House floor on an open rule is “anybody’s guess.” Freshmen Republicans, he noted “want a huge whack out of food stamps,” and it’s possible that the House might cut more than the Senate.

If the bill is done in regular order, the main discussion would be about the commodity title, he said, adding, “We could easily get it done by May. That’s our goal.” —Jerry Hagstrom, DTN