Months ago, amid the positive vibes emanating from the halls of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. all the way to the farm fields of the Seventh District in Minnesota that he represents, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson was already concerned. Despite the U.S. Senate approving a new farm bill with relative ease, Peterson was worried that the bill faced much tougher prospects in the House.
If the House didn't pass a bill before the pre-election recess, Peterson said at the time that the bill in its current form would potentially have to be scrapped entirely, and, depending on how the November election went, could look much different if something wasn't signed into law until 2013.
Peterson's fears have been realized. The House Republican leadership over the past few months wouldn't allow the farm bill to come up for a vote and Congress has recessed for the election, leaving the legislation in limbo.
But, during a visit to Crookston earlier this week, Peterson said he still has hope that the House will approve a farm bill during the "lame duck" session that will convene after the election and wrap up before lawmakers take their oaths of office in January 2013.
"I'm really hoping we can still get this done," Peterson told the Times after a tour of Crookston's New Flyer of America metro transit bus final assembly plant, which he took with Sen. Amy Klobuchar as part of her "Made in America" tour. Saying he's "good friends" with House Speaker John Boehner, a Ohio Republican, Peterson said Boehner wants a farm bill approved during the House's lame-duck session as well. "If not, we're faced with starting the whole thing over in the new year, and who knows how that new bill might look?" Peterson said. "The bill we have now is a good, strong bill."
Peterson said he can't help but "feel for" Republican candidates like U.S. Senate candidate Rick Berg in North Dakota, a current colleague of Peterson's in the House. Berg is battling Democrat Heidi Heitkamp for the Senate seat being vacated by Kent Conrad, and Berg is having a hard time explaining why the leaders of his party in the House won't pass a farm bill.
"People like Berg are paying the price; in some states the farm bill is no big deal so a guy can sort of skirt by, but in North Dakota it's a huge deal," Peterson said.
Berg, like countless other Republican lawmakers, Peterson said, is "held hostage" by pledges forced upon them by people like Grover Norquist and the Club for Growth, who insist that no Republican vote in favor of essentially anything that increasingly relies on tax revenue. "So you vote for the farm bill and that's a knock against you," Peterson said. "They don't forget that you voted for it, either."
Page 2 of 2 - Peterson said it's a frightening trend. Tax revenues in the United States, as a percentage of the gross domestic product, he said, are at their lowest level since World War II. "You can't run a government like that," he said.