“I’m optimistic again that we can bring that thing up and hope we put together something as we did last time that had some real bipartisan support,” he said. “I think the farm bill could fall into that, where if we lose 100 on the left who think the cuts are too deep on something, and we lose 100 on the right now just don’t want to do anything when it concerns the farm bill, you’re still left with a majority.”
Walz said last year’s iteration of the bill contains enough cuts to fulfill the desires of lawmakers looking to push on deficit reduction measures. Of those who didn’t want to bring up the bill last session, he said, “Basically by not allowing a vote on the farm bill, [they] thumbed their nose at $36 billion in reforms.”
Nolan, making his return to both Congress and the Agriculture Committee after three decades away, is approaching the bill with a little less optimism. Nolan has decried the slow pace of business on Capitol Hill and said he would like the Ag Committee (and every other committee, for that matter) to begin meeting right now to discuss deficit reduction measures.
Given the recent partisan battles that have scarred Capitol Hill, Nolan said he doesn’t think any more than a short-term farm bill extension passes the House this year, with maybe a longer-term fix to the dairy program, the expiration of which threatened to raise milk prices last year.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if we ended up just extending the program for x number of months or another year with some type of specifically-tailored fix to the dairy program,” he said.
The rest of the agenda
Meanwhile, there is more on the Agriculture Committee’s 2013 agenda than a farm bill (though that would dominate proceedings if it moves forward). Congress needs to reauthorize the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates agriculture futures markets. Peterson said the committee will also help oversee the implementation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law.
Walz will likely be the ranking Democrat on the conservation, energy and forestry subcommittee, which Nolan said he hopes to serve on.
With three members, only Texas, California and Illinois (four) are better represented on the Agriculture Committee than Minnesota, which is fitting. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest census (conducted in 2007; the agency is collecting new data now), Minnesota has the seventh biggest agriculture industry in the country, with more than 80,000 farms generating more than $13 billion in products.
“I look forward to having them there, but it’s hard to say whether it will make much difference or not,” he said. “First of all, we’re in the minority. Second, we don’t know if we’re even going to do anything.”