SOUTH ST. PAUL, Minn. — A key congressional voice on agriculture, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, said Tuesday that he's optimistic that lawmakers can pass a new farm bill next week after a delay caused by the break for the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush.
Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, who's expected to become chairman next year, was heavily involved in negotiations that produced an agreement in principle last week among the top committee leaders in both the House and Senate. He said at a news conference that the final bill will get filed Monday, that he expects the House will take it up next Wednesday or Thursday, and that the Senate could then take it up the next day.
"With any luck it'll be out, it'll be passed by the end of next week. But knowing how things go around here, it may drag into the week after," Peterson said. "But I think we are going to get this thing done before the end of the year."
The farm bill governs farm subsidy and other agricultural programs, but by far the largest chunk of its more than $400 million in spending for the next five years goes to food stamps for the poor. As part of the final deal, House Republicans dropped their push for stricter work requirements for the program, which for months was the biggest sticking point because of opposition from House Democrats and many Senate Republicans.
Peterson said the bill isn't everything he wanted. He said he couldn't win support for putting additional money into the bill above the levels set in the 2014 farm bill, so it wasn't possible to raise target prices for farmers who've been slammed by low commodity prices that have been depressed even further by the U.S.-China trade war.
The bill, therefore, largely maintains the status quo, he said. The biggest winners will be milk producers, he said, because the legislation fixes a dairy safety net program created under the 2014 farm bill that didn't work. Participating farmers with about 240 cows or less can now expect to at least break even, he said.
"It isn't the best possible bill, but it's the best bill possible," he said.