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Peterson, Labrador differ on farm bill prospects

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, presented dramatically different but interrelated views on prospects for the farm bill in speeches to the American Sugar Alliance meeting here today.

In a video made last Thursday before the House voted on disaster aid, Peterson urged the sugar growers to press for passage of the farm bill when Congress comes back to Washington on Sept. 10. Peterson said that he believes that after members spend time at home this month there will be a “clamor” to pass the five-year farm bill.

But Peterson also warned that there are some House Republicans “including some in the leadership” who want to play “rope-a-dope” by postponing action on the farm bill until the lame-duck session and then trying to push the bill until 2013. Peterson said the people advocating that position want to eliminate the sugar and dairy programs, make big cuts in the food stamp program and reduce crop subsidies.

Labrador, who represents northern Idaho and is the only member of Congress to appear live at this year’s meeting of the beet and cane growers, told them he does not believe that a five-year farm bill will be passed this year.

Labrador, considered a sugar industry supporter, noted that he grew up in Puerto Rico, where sugar cane is grown, and that he had learned about sugar beets since he moved to Idaho and became active in politics. But he did not mention the sugar program or the farm bill in his speech.

When asked about prospects for the farm bill, Labrador said, “I don’t think you are going to get a five-year farm bill. The best you are going to get is a one-year extension.”

Laborador added that 80 percent of the farm bill “is not about farms.” The Senate farm bill, he said, would continue “the highest rate of food stamp spending in history,” adding that he does not believe that is going to be acceptable to the House.

Labrador also said he believes House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., is “already working” with the Senate on a one-year bill. Lucas has said repeatedly, however, that he wants a five-year bill.

On July 19, Labrador said that if the farm bill comes to the House floor he would support an amendment proposed by Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., to split the farm bill into two bills, National Journal Daily reported.

“I think we could decrease the cost of both programs if they were split up,” Stutzman said. “Together they become this huge spending bill. If we could focus on just farm policy we could get members to realize the importance of agriculture. Then we could deal with the nutrition title by itself rather than coupling the two together.”

The other conservative Republicans who said they would support Stutzman’s amendment were Justin Amash of Michigan, Jeffrey Landry of Louisiana, and Jeff Duncan of South Carolina

In his speech, Labrador, who was elected in 2010, said the two biggest issues facing the country are the “the national debt crisis” and “improving the environment for business.” He also said that he wants to simplify the tax code to remove loopholes at the top and make people at the bottom income categories pay taxes.

Labrador said he is reluctantly supporting a six-month continuing resolution because he hopes that Congress will avoid holding a lame-duck session. He also said that he had not voted for the budget bill that requires sequestration but that he now supports allowing sequestration to take effect.

“I think it is fundamentally hypocritical for those who voted for it to say we should not go forward with that,” Labrador said.