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Ag leaders to meet with leadership on farm bill and disaster aid

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Senate Agriculture ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., agreed at a meeting last night that they should consult with the House and Senate leadership on how to proceed on the farm bill and disaster aid, Peterson told The Hagstrom Report today.

In an interview before a committee hearing, Peterson said all four Ag committee leaders hope to meet with their leaders today, but that the four do not plan to meet again until next week, the last week that the House and Senate are in session before the break.

Peterson said he is opposed to an extension of the farm bill, which House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is considering. An extension is not necessary for crop insurance or food stamps because they have authority to continue, he said, and an extension of commodity programs is not needed until next June.

An extension would not extend certain conservation program and fruit and vegetable programs that are expiring because there is no money to pay for them or pay for disaster aid, Peterson said. If there is an attempt to add disaster aid to an extension, lawmakers would probably need to find $2.5 billion to pay for that, he added. Peterson also said he thinks that livestock producers and fruit and vegetable producers need disaster aid the most.

If an extension is offered, Peterson said, “I will oppose it.” He also said Stabenow and Roberts signaled it would be hard to get an extension through the Senate.

Peterson confirmed that he told Boehner he thought that about 40 House Democrats would vote for the farm bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee, and said he got the impression from Boehner's body language that more than 40 Democratic votes would be needed to pass the bill.

Peterson said he was only making an estimate, and that he had not polled Demcoratic members to see how they would vote.

Peterson said Congress needs the cuts in the new farm bill to pay for programs such as fruits and vegetables and conservation and make other reforms. An extension would include extending the direct payments that are supposed to be cut for budget savings to pay for certain conservation and fruits and vegetable programs.

“This goes against everything people want,” Peterson said. “Nobody has a plan at this point, but I’m still optimistic.”