Representative out of power but not opinions on budget
By JERRY HAGSTROM
For the Capital Press
BRAINERD, Minn. -- Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has gone from chairman of the House Agriculture Committee during the 2008 Farm Bill to ranking member, a position with little power in a House where the Republican majority rules.
But that is not stopping him from making known his views that the next farm bill should not cut crop insurance.
"I am against making any cuts in crop insurance ... any changes in crop insurance," Peterson said here at the recent Minnesota Ag Leadership Conference.
Peterson said that in the 2008 Farm Bill, Congress cut back on the cost of the crop insurance program and authorized the Agriculture Department's Risk Management Agency to renegotiate the agreement with the companies that govern the program, which had resulted in further savings.
Peterson defended those cuts, but said he believes it is too early to evaluate the impact of those changes. "We need another year to know" what impact those changes have had, Peterson said.
The cost of subsidized crop insurance has increased along with the price of commodities to a total of between $8 billion and $9 billion this year, with about $7 billion going toward subsidizing about 55 percent of the cost of producers' premiums.
Those rising costs have led some farm lobbyists to note that crop insurance now costs more than any other farm program and may become a target for budget cutters and farm bill reformers.
Crop insurance today, Peterson said, is much more politically acceptable than the direct payments that crop farmers get whether prices are high or low.
Peterson said the crop insurance companies are also working on a proposal to manage agricultural disaster programs. Crop insurance executives have told him they believe they can make payments in two or three weeks, which would be much faster than the federal government.
The companies are supposed to present him a proposal this fall, he said.
"Crop insurance for me is the bottom line," Peterson said, adding that he fears that at some point it may be the only farm program left.
The Senate is likely to develop a farm bill first, Peterson said.
But he added that he is not sure a Senate-passed bill can pass the House. The House Agriculture Committee will be able to get a bill out of committee, he said, even though there are some Tea Party members and more leftist Democrats on the committee than in the past.
The problem for the farm bill will come on the House floor, where Tea Party Republicans and leftist Democrats might join together to defeat it, he said.
He admitted that being ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee rather than chairman is frustrating.
He offered his comments in the context that "no one is asking my advice or listening to me," he said.