MARSHALL - U.S. House Rep. Collin Peterson's optimism for a new, five-year farm bill is fading faster than summer.
Peterson, the veteran Democrat who represents Minnesota's 7th Congressional District, told the Independent on Monday that he's been told Republican House leader John Boehner of Ohio will probably put the farm bill on hold for this year.
"I'm not optimistic right now," Peterson said. "People out there are trying to stir up support for it, but it just doesn't seem to be resonating. I get questions about it, but nobody is really strung out about it in my district. I don't really sense it around the country, either."
The current farm bill expires at the end of the month.
A new farm bill would potentially overhaul crop safety net programs and fund the food stamp program that helps more than 46 million people. If a new farm bill isn't passed, the process will start over after a new Congress is sworn in. The most likely scenario this year is an extension of the current farm bill that would include drought aid for livestock producers whose assistance programs expired last year.
Peterson, the ranking member of the House Ag Committee, said a farm bill extension at this time isn't necessary and would just be kicking the issue into next year. He said it's more likely the farm bill will be delayed until 2013.
"If they put an extension through, the House might pass it but I don't know if the Senate will," said Peterson. "I would guess they might not, but it's very unclear."
Congress reconvened in Washington, D.C., on Monday - the House for eight days, the Senate for 12 days, and there is plenty on its plate, including a six-month spending bill and a veterans' jobs bill, not to mention a House Republican bill that would prevent future federal investments in bankrupt companies like Solyndra.
Muddling the picture even more is the fact that an election looms in a couple months.
"The problem is half of the Republicans and their caucus don't like this bill for a lot of different reasons," Peterson said. "They have some division within their side and they don't want to bring it up; that might be because it's an election year."
Peterson said the lack of urgency on the farm bill stems from the fact that some of the main aspects of the bill wouldn't be affected regardless of passage. Food stamps, he said, will continue, and crop insurance is normally not done in a farm bill. The main area that would be affected, he said, is conservation programs that will find themselves without money. They would still be authorized but wouldn't be able to sign anyone up.
Lee Byberg, the GOP-endorsed candidate to challenge Peterson again in November, said there are positives to the proposed farm bill in its current state, such as moving from direct payments into risk management, but said increasing the food stamp portion of the farm bill is the wrong way to go.
"In a time when our government is totally financially inept we are now tripling the food stamp portion and that's unreal," he said. "This is not the time to expand this is becoming more of a food stamp bill than an ag bill. I don't think we can afford what Congress is proposing."
Byberg said the current problem with the farm bill can be traced back to 2008 when, he said, Congress provided for only four years of disaster coverage for farmers.
"A lot of producers are losing their shirt due to the drought and part of that goes back to the prior bill where politicians were just playing games," he said. "They left out one year with no protection. Now they are scrambling and blaming each other for what's happening today."
The American Farm Bureau Federation on Monday urged Senate leaders to "refrain from supporting" any legislation resembling the House-passed disaster bill if such a measure is presented in the Senate.
The AFBF said passing the House disaster bill as a quick fix would do more harm than good to farmers and ranchers.
The group urged Senate leaders to instead reach agreement on a new farm bill before the current program expires on Sept. 30.