Despite disagreement between Democrats and Republicans about the appropriate levels of cuts in this year's farm bill, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., expressed optimism that it could still pass Congress this year.
The Senate appears ready to mark up the farm bill in committee next week, Peterson told Tom Crann of All Things Considered on Thursday. If the bill passes the Senate, the House will get a chance at it.
"It looks like it's on track and we'll do everything we can to get this thing wrapped up before the August recess," Peterson said.
Peterson said that Wednesday's House Agriculture Committee vote on the farm bill budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was a "complete waste of time." He said the reconciliation process used in the committee vote was meaningless because it requires the approval of the Democrat-dominated Senate.
"They forced this reconciliation so that people who don't want to cut anything out of the military could vote for the budget then they took it out of agriculture and other places," Peterson said.
Ryan's proposed budget would cut farm and conservation programs by $33 billion dollars over the next decade.
"We're being asked to take about four-times as [many] cuts percentage-wise as any other part of the budget," Peterson said. "There's no good reason other than ideology to require that kind of a cut."
Ryan's budget would also cut food stamps and nutrition programs in the farm bill by $133 billion over the next ten years.
"These are people who are working that have lost their jobs, that are having a hard time," Peterson said. "It's not fair to take everything out of them and then hold harmless people who have done very well."
Even if the farm bill does not include Ryan's proposed cuts, it will likely still include steep cuts to agriculture and food assistance. It is also expected to include the replacement of direct payments to farmers with federally-subsidized crop insurance. (http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2012/04/09/farm-bill/)
The current farm bill expires in September.