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Editorial: Rep. Peterson calls it like it is

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., is one of those rare politicians who speak with refreshing candor and without dizzying spin. The 7th District congressman did not disappoint this week when he let fly as his colleagues in the U.S. House, mostly Republicans, who are trying to scuttle a new farm bill.

The latest? House Republicans wanted to separate food and nutrition titles from farm support titles in new farm legislation. Peterson’s response was direct and on point. “This is lunacy, what is going on here,” he said.

Apparently a sufficient number of nonlunatics in the House agreed and the attempt to divide (and conquer) the farm bill was quashed. But as Peterson and other farm-state congressmen understood, the proposal to separate nutrition aspects of the bill from its farm provisions was a thinly disguised attempt to kill the entire bill. It was led by a cabal of House Republicans who don’t like any sort of farm/food support legislation.

That they lost this round is the good news. The bad news is that the diversionary tactic likely put off any meaningful action on a farm bill until next year. The delay, while not fatal, is not helpful to producers, ag lenders and small-town main streets that depend on economic stability in the farm sector.

The five-year farm bill that cleared the Senate with a comfortable bipartisan majority accomplishes the stability goal. But that imperfect but very good Senate bill is going nowhere in the House, in part because Democrats would not support reasonable reforms in the food stamp program. Now the majority Republican caucus this week said it would take a piecemeal approach to farm and food legislation – another scheme that seems little more than a backdoor attempt to kill a farm bill.

Meanwhile, it looks like Congress will approve a one-year extension of the current farm bill, which means reforms in the Senate bill are on hold.

Peterson laid it out with refreshing frankness, spiced with his simmering anger. Referring to the knot of very conservative Republicans who oppose any farm bill, he said, “You have a bunch of these screwballs out there.” He’s got ’em pegged.

No one in Congress knows more about farm legislation than Peterson. He understands a sweeping five-year farm bill requires compromises and alliances. That’s why it is vital to keep food/nutrition titles, farm support provisions and conservation measures under the umbrella of a comprehensive bill. No bill of such magnitude and complexity can be perfect. But “perfect” is in the eye of the beholder, and no intelligent member of Congress expects his/her personal definition of perfection to be in every bill.

Peterson’s characterization of the farm bill killers as “screwballs” might be too kind. They are members of an ideological cult of tea party obstructionists. They would let a house burn down rather than spend a public dime for a firetruck. And thus far, their strategy of tearing down and going backward rather than building up and advancing, is carrying the day.


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