WASHINGTON — Members of the U.S. House approved a long-delayed farm bill deal on Wednesday, sending it to the Senate, where lawmakers say it should pass.
Minnesota Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson was one the lead negotiators on the bill. After the vote, he said the compromise is “not perfect, but I think it’s the best bill we could produce in this climate.”
The final vote was 251-166. Every Minnesotan except Reps. Keith Ellison and Michele Bachmann voted for the deal.
The bill saves $23 billion over 10 years, according to the Agriculture Committee, by ending direct payments to farms (in exchange for new crop insurance offerings), consolidating programs and reforming the food stamps program. A Congressional Budget Office analysis, based on different measurements, says the bill saves about $16 billion.
Food stamp cuts totaled $8 billion, well lower than the $40 billion House Republicans had approved last year. As usual, the cuts were the most controversial part of the bill on the floor. Most Democrats voted against the legislation arguing the cuts were too deep, while many conservatives said they didn’t go far enough.
Minnesotans on food stamps won’t be affected by the cuts because of the way they will be administered.
‘We’re probably all equally unhappy’
The Senate could take up the bill before the end of the week, and the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee said it’s likely to pass. Both Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken support the bill, and the White House said Wednesday that President Obama would sign it if he receives it.
Whenever that happens, it will cap off two years of drama over agriculture and nutrition policy.
The law was technically due for renewal in 2012, and though the Senate passed its version that year, the House never took one up. Lawmakers approved a one-year extension of the law so lawmakers could reach a deal in 2013.
When the House bill came to the floor last June, it failed after a controversial GOP food stamp provision drove away Democratic support even as conservatives said the bill didn’t cut enough. Republican lawmakers eventually ratcheted up the cuts to win passage and send the bill to a conference committee with the Senate.
Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, was one of four main negotiators working on a final compromise, but he sparred with House Speaker John Boehner over a dairy program that was eventually left out of the final bill. Still, he supported the final deal as an imperfect compromise between both Republicans and Democrats and the House and Senate.
“We’re probably all equally unhappy, and that’s probably the best you can do,” he said. “I think there should be plenty of votes in the Senate to move this, and we can be finally done with farm bill.”
Peterson to consider his future
Peterson has said he would wait until the farm bill was done before deciding whether to seek a 14th term this November. Now he says he plans to take two or three weeks to decompress after the farm bill process to consider his options.
“I’m going to take a couple weeks and I’m going get back to normal,” he said. “I can’t remember how it feels to be normal.”
Peterson has filed the paperwork required to run for re-election and he had a strong month of fundraising after attracting an opponent in December. On Wednesday he told reporters, “I’m running until I’m not,” but the 69-year-old acknowledged Tuesday that he might not want to wait five years to tackle another farm bill (he was the Agriculture Committee chairman when Congress rewrote the law in 2008, and he said the traditionally bipartisan bill has gotten “significantly harder” to pass every time it has come up).
“Is this my last farm bill? It might be, but I’ve got to figure that out. I’m going to be 70 years old, I’m not a spring chicken,” he said Tuesday. “Everybody wants me to run, I’ve got a lot of support.”
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry