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By Mikkel Pates, Published November 04 2010

Timing of farm bill may change

The Republican broom didn’t sweep Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., out of office, but he’ll lose his chairmanship of the House Agriculture Committee, and the timing of the farm bill could change.

On Wednesday morning, Peterson said he’d call Republican ranking member Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., to congratulate him and “tell him I’m ready to work with him.”

Peterson was confident he’d be able to operate in the new environment, which will include practical matters such as the changeover in staff. Before Tuesday’s election, Democrats were two-thirds of the staff and the Republicans one-third. “That’ll flip,” Peterson said. “We have a bunch of people who will have to go, and we’ll have to sort that out.”

Peterson said the only significant difference between him and Lucas on the next farm bill is that Lucas wants to wait until 2012 to pass a new multi-year bill, while Peterson wants to get it done in 2011, the year before the existing bill expires.

“I still think that’s a mistake because I think it’ll be worse in 2012 than this year,” Peterson said. In part, that’s because of the budget situation, and in part it’s because 2012 is a presidential election year. “That’s his prerogative,” Peterson acknowledged. “He’ll do what he’s going to do.”

Peterson said that while the parties change, it’s a fact that neither can get the bill done without the other’s support.

Peterson said a similar shift occurred in 1996. “When things are good, farmers vote Republican; when things are bad, they vote Democrat. That’s true. They forget that things can turn.”

He said farm policy went through the Freedom to Farm concept, which focused on trade and reduced safety net policies.

“Some of us tried to talk them out of that, and we ended up spending more money in history trying to bail things out. I think he (Lucas) is going to face pressure from his caucus to do something like that again. Times are good, so we don’t need all of this (farm policy support). All of these new people coming in, a lot of them are going to be the type that want to get rid of government programs.”

Peterson said he will miss the support of Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., who was “loyal and helpful to me like nobody else,” and Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin, D-S.D., who also was swept up in the Republican tide.

Peterson said he’ll soon contact Rick Berg, R-N.D., who defeated the incumbent Pomeroy to earn North Dakota’s lone U.S. House seat.

“We’ve got to work together on (Red River) valley stuff, on flooding, and we have the sugar program to worry about. We’ll have to work together.”

He said he knows and has always gotten along with Gov. John Hoeven, who will replace retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., in the U.S. Senate.

Also in play is whether Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., retains his Budget Committee chairmanship or considers leadership of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Peterson said his shift to minority leader on the Agriculture Committee won’t change some things.

“I’ll be able to take care of sugar, that’s not even a question,” Peterson said. “We’ll keep the same program; it doesn’t cost anything. That won’t be hard.”

However, Peterson said it will be harder to get the $500 million allocated to the Red River Valley for flood control.

“I’ll tell Lucas that’s my price for working with him,” Peterson said. “He needs to get that done because it’ll save the country money. It’ll save us money. It’s the right thing to do.”

Pates writes for Agweek, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.