House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson today made the following statement during markup of the partisan Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2)
—As Prepared for Delivery—
“Mr. Chairman, this is a flawed bill that is the result of a bad and nontransparent process. I oppose it and urge my colleagues on the Committee to oppose it as well. More than nine months ago, we began discussions on a bipartisan farm bill. I saw this process as a way to work collaboratively and produce a work product where so many in this town have fallen victim to politics. We wanted to get to a bipartisan bill. In our discussions, we were able to find common ground on quite a few areas but, as anyone who has been through this before knows—and I’ve been through a few farm bills—nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.
“But to be a bipartisan bill, the bill has to be bipartisan in every title. Both parties must have input and give and take on all parts of the bill. I told the Chairman in our first meeting in December that because of how Republican leadership handled SNAP amendments in 2013, my Democrats would not trust anything that appeared to be driven by ideology. He told me verbatim that he wouldn’t jam me on SNAP, and yet here we are.
“As I saw more details, I highlighted four areas of concern within the nutrition title that went too far and that Committee Democrats would not be able to support. And I thought it would have been clear after the 23 hearings on SNAP. At none of those hearings—in none of the testimony from 89 witnesses—did we hear support for this ideological attack on SNAP. Those discussions contained nothing on the repeal of Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility, or on severing the link with LIHEAP, or creating a vast state bureaucracy of untested and unproven employment and training mandates, or this child support piece. Yet those are all in the bill. Now, I can probably negotiate on Categorical Eligibility. I also think there are some changes we should make to tighten up the Standard Utility Allowance.
“But the problem is this work piece, and unfortunately, the Chairman told me that was the one non-negotiable provision, after months of my warnings about this type of approach. Remember, this is the ideological crusade that killed the bill in 2013. Either Chairman Conaway has chosen not to negotiate, or he was told by his leadership not to negotiate on one of the most significant parts of the farm bill.
“I didn’t walk away. We didn’t walk away. We were pushed away by an ideological fight I repeatedly warned the Chairman not to start. I’ve been here for 28 years and I’ve never walked away; not as Chairman or as Ranking Member. Frank and I had our differences, Bob and I had our differences, and we worked hard to get through them.
“And we are for work. There is not a single person in this room or my caucus that doesn’t recognize and appreciate the role of work as a pathway out of poverty. What I can’t support though is a waste of billions on a program that is entirely untested. So before discussions came to a stop, I asked the Chairman to sit down with workforce development experts. At that meeting those folks expressed major reservations about the ability of states and the workforce development community to pull off a program of the magnitude the Chairman is proposing. I then followed up during the Easter break with visits to SNAP offices in my district and across the border in North Dakota. Everyone I talked to said this approach was unworkable. And while I still don’t have clear answers for how this work piece will work, it is clear that this legislation would create giant, untested bureaucracies at the state level. It cuts more than nine billion dollars in benefits and rolls those savings into state slush funds where they can use the money to operate other aspects of SNAP. Let me be clear: this bill, as currently written, kicks people off the SNAP program. The Chairman may call them “self-selections,” but let’s call this exercise what it is—reducing SNAP rolls.
“But there is more to the farm bill than SNAP. When our members finally got to look at text on Thursday, it was clear to them that there are significant concerns beyond the nutrition title. Members started coming to me asking why there wasn’t a baseline for animal disease prevention, Organic Research Initiative, and the Beginning Farmer & Rancher Development Program. There’s no mandatory funding for scholarships at 1890 institutions, and $500 million from the Rural Energy for America Program was eliminated as well as killing the energy title. Folks were looking for funding for citrus greening research and doubling our market access dollars. They’re raising concerns about the program consolidation in Title II, having no baseline for small watershed program and the decrease in the baseline in the out years. Even if we could miraculously fix the nutrition title, members still have other issues with the bill.
“But my biggest concern with this bill is that we’ve gone off the ideological cliff on SNAP, and that risks truly rupturing the partnership we need to pass a bill through both chambers and have it signed into law. Traditionally, there is a bipartisan coalition of urban and rural lawmakers that works together to pass a farm bill. The urban members support the farm programs and the rural members support the nutrition programs. This partnership has been at the core of every farm bill since the 70s, and it’s been reflected in farm legislation since the Great Depression. It is quite literally the mutual support system that helped rebuild what we lost in those dark economic times.
“A safety net for those who produce our food and those who need help purchasing it remains the most important part of our work on this Committee. It is the cornerstone of this legislation, and this bill will ruin it. I’m afraid the well has been so poisoned that, without the support of urban members who don’t like these SNAP provisions, the programs that support farmers become vulnerable to amendments and attacks from activist viewpoints like the Heritage Foundation when this gets to the floor.
“I also question the strategy of moving forward in a partisan manner when the Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman and Ranking Member’s response to the release of the House bill last week was a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to a bipartisan bill. What are we doing here? Is this half-baked effort what passes for bipartisanship in our chamber? We used to be able to get stuff done, but the way the Chairman has gone about this is turning friends into enemies.
“So, Mr. Chairman, I’m not quite sure where this is going. I cannot guarantee a single vote from my caucus on this language, not just because of SNAP, but all of it. It’s your prerogative as Chairman to proceed with just Republican support if you see fit, but I don’t think that’s a good idea. As my grandpa said, “you reap what you sow.’”
“But there’s still time. This is our committee and we can still work together to pass something that works for everyone. We can still work collaboratively to give the farm economy the certainty it needs, and ensure that nobody who needs food is left hungry. That’s what we’ve always been about here. We’ve always been able to fight through the division that plagues the rest of this place. It’s why I’ve chosen to be a part of this committee over the others for almost 30 years. I appreciate all the time and effort that your staff put in over the last year, and I know it has been hard on both staffs not to be able to have worked out a mark we could both support, but this is simply not the right way to go about this. All of us on this side of the room are here to work collaboratively to pass a good bill. This isn’t that bill.
“I again urge members to oppose and I yield back.”