Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson said he will support the budget plan outlined by President Obama today, saying that lawmakers need to "put everything on the table" to resolve the budget deficit.
Peterson, who represents Minnesota's 7th District, spoke with MPR's Tom Crann on Wednesday afternoon.
Tom Crann: I want to hear your reaction to the president's plan here, $4 trillion in 12 years reduced from the federal deficit. Is that reasonable, from your perspective?
Rep. Collin Peterson: I haven't seen all the details of it, but if it follows the ... Bowles-Simpson scenario--.
Crann: That's the committee the president had look at the deficit and came up with reduction suggestions. And you're pretty much in line with what they recommend.
Peterson: Yes, I've taken, actually, the position that I would support that. I mean I don't support every single thing that's in there, but that's what we have to do. We have to put everything on the table. We have to deal with every aspect of this budget and we can't take anything off the table. We can't take defense off. We can't take Social Security or Medicare or farm programs. We've got to deal with the entire situation or we're not going to get this thing under control.
Crann: So, even on popular things that are in that plan, although the president did mention today, like the mortgage deduction, all of those popular things, Medicare, certainly very popular with a lot of voters, you'd say that none of them are off limits?
Peterson: Well, they can't be. We're on an unsustainable course. I think there's ways for Social Security. We can make that solvent for 75 years without decimating the program. I think we can do the same thing with Medicare. It all depends on how you go about it.
The Republicans, in their '12 budget, have some provisions in there on Medicare which tries to get at this, but I disagree with what they're doing because basically they're turning it into a voucher program and turning it all over to the private insurance companies, which I think would have a difficult time being accepted by the public.
So there might be some disagreements on how to get there, but I think that we have to deal with all these different aspects ... That's why we haven't been able to resolve this because we've exempted defense. We've exempted Homeland Security. We haven't taken on entitlements. That's why we're not getting anyplace.
Crann: I want to move on now, if we could, to the compromise on this year's budget, the compromise reached on Friday. It would more than a billion dollars in different agriculture programs in spending. As the top Democrat on the Ag Committee, which programs do you think will be most noticeably affected?
Peterson: Well, I don't know that there's anything that's in this agreement that's going to be, frankly, noticed that much by the individual person out there. There's cuts in agriculture, but they're basically what called CHIMPS (Changes in Mandatory Program Spending), and they're focused on programs where we sign programs with people.
Crann: You call them CHIMPS?
Peterson: Yes, the changes in mandatory programs where they cap some of our mandatory farm programs and then they use that money to reduce the deficit. And so what it means is, like if you're working to get an Equip contract or a WRP contract with the USDA over the next six months you won't be able to sign a contract because that money was eliminated. But that comes right back on October 1, so it just means a six-month delay for those people that are in the middle of a contract. It's not the end of the world.
So, it's not going to be hugely noticed, in my opinion, and I intend to support the deal.
Crann: So you intend to vote for the budget compromise?
Crann: Which way do you sense the wind is blowing now for a majority of House members when it comes to cutting farm subsidies? Do you think it's blowing in favor of that, or do you think the current level of subsidies will be maintained for a while?
Peterson: I think they'll be some cuts. The question is the magnitude. The Republican budget has $177 billion out of our baseline, over 20 percent. That is not achievable. The Democratic budget has $20 billion. That's easily achievable. So we know we're going to have to take some cuts. We just want to make sure they're commensurate, that we're not being singled out for more cuts than some other part of the budget. It needs to be in balance, and if it is, we're willing to do that.
Crann: The debate is shifting in Congress as to whether to raise the nation's debt ceiling. What's your position on that?
Peterson: Well, I think it needs to be done because we've spent the money and we have the obligation. The question for me is going to be what they add to it and whether it gets loaded up with a whole bunch of extraneous stuff, in terms of whether I'm going to support it or not, but I think eventually it will get resolved.
Crann: And under what conditions would you support it?
Peterson: Well, I would prefer a clean vote, but it will depend on what they add. It's hard to say at this point. It's a speculation about what they might do. Some of the riders I might support. Some I might not. So it would depend on what they ended up doing.
(Interview edited and transcribed by MPR reporter Madeleine Baran)