House Panel Scraps Draft Farm Bill After Democrat Balks

The House Agriculture Committee canceled tentative plans to draft a new farm bill after its top Democrat sought a commitment that the legislation will be considered by the full chamber, according to committee leaders.

“There’s going to be no markup in the foreseeable future without it,” Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota said today in an interview. Peterson had said the committee would meet on Feb. 27, and that “is off.”

The timing of a meeting of the committee, which may occur as lawmakers debate raising the federal debt ceiling, also comes into play, Chairman Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican, said today in an interview. Lucas, who hasn’t confirmed a Feb. 27 meeting, had said a session could happen as early as late February.

U.S. agricultural law that governs food aid to poor families as well as crop subsidies to farmers this week was extended to Sept. 30 as part of the congressional tax and spending settlement. The law approved in 2008 lapsed last year, triggering rules dating to 1949 that would have pushed up milk prices.

Peterson sent letters yesterday to House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, both Republicans, saying that without a guarantee that farm-policy legislation would be debated on the House floor this year, Democrats won’t work on a bill, which will require bipartisan support to pass. Peterson said House Republican leaders “bottled up” the panel’s bill last year, keeping the measure off the House agenda.

‘Next Swarm’

“I, too, would like to have a commitment” from House and Senate leaders that a farm bill will be voted on this year, Lucas said. “I don’t see how you can have a markup at the same time as the next swarm is swirling over the debt ceiling and everything else.”

The extension lacked a dairy-support program backed by leaders of both congressional agriculture committees, prompting Peterson to seek a written commitment from Boehner and Cantor.

Farm bills, usually passed every five years, set policy and fund U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, which benefit companies such as Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. and Bunge Ltd. by encouraging lower raw-material costs. Farmers had record profits and exports under the 2008 law while USDA food-stamp spending more than doubled since 2007 because of the recession. Food stamp spending is about half of the agency’s budget.

Peterson was one of 16 House Democrats to vote against the deal to avoid higher taxes and spending cuts, known as the fiscal cliff. Lucas supported the plan, as did Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate farm panel.

Stabenow said Dec. 30 that her panel hadn’t set a date for drafting farm legislation and work would begin “soon.” Peterson, who led the House Agriculture Committee in 2008, said current law may need additional extensions until the impasse with leadership is resolved.

“In Minnesota, we can live with current law if it keeps getting extended,” he said. “I wrote it.”

(Updates with comment from ranking member Peterson in second paragraph.)
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