House Ag chair: Hard work remains on mostly completed bill
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson told Agriculture Online Friday that changes are still likely in the farm bill's payment limits, an issue he expects to be working on between now and the next meeting of the farm bill conference committee early next week.
When asked about the White House reaction to what has been agreed to so far, limits that ratchet down to $500,000 in adjusted gross income for nonfarmers by 2011, Peterson said "They don't like it.
"I think it is likely to change," Peterson said. "I don't like it either."
Peterson said he doesn't favor payment limits for producers and that he believes payments should be matched to a farm's production.
"We're the last people in the world who should be telling people how big a farm should be," Peterson said of Congress.
But he doesn't think agricultural policy should encourage nonfarm investment in agriculture. In the past, that nonfarm investment has been the first to flee agriculture when times get tough, he said.
"I am for getting nonfarmers out of the program," he said. "I've told the White House where I'm coming from, is to put a tight cap on nonfarmers and leave the farmers alone."
After a long day Thursday that ended at 3:00 a.m. Friday morning, Peterson was taking questions from reporters back home by telephone Friday morning, along with Representative Earl Pomeroy, a Democrat from North Dakota. Pomeroy is the only Ag Committee member who serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, so he was involved in the high level farm bill negotiations behind the scenes this week, along with Peterson, his committee's ranking Republican, Representative Bob Goodlatte, and leaders of the Senate Agriculture and Finance Committees.
Both Peterson and Pomeroy expressed frustration that the White House has taken strong positions on the farm bill but won't negotiate. Peterson said he was pleased that Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer and Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner met with farm bill leaders after President Bush criticized the farm bill in his press conference last Tuesday.
"Ed Schafer's been very good," Peterson said. "He's in a difficult situation.
"He gets it. He knows what needs to be done, but he is not a free agent," Peterson said. "There seem to be about four different factions in the White House on the farm bill and some of the President's advisors may have wanted a veto from the beginning."
Pomeroy said if Congress adopted all of the Bush administration's recommendations for the farm bill, he didn't think the bill would pass.
"If the President does veto this bill, I think we'll have the strongest prospects of overriding any bill he's vetoed thus far," Pomeroy said.
Peterson said he was criticized by senators for meeting directly with the White House last winter to seek support for a farm bill, The White House did agree to increase spending on the farm bill over the budget baseline by about $6 billion, but did not go along with a new permanent disaster program.