Rep. Peterson: Pelosi supports farm bill push

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will support moving the House farm bill forward, Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) told reporters Friday.

“Leader Pelosi is behind us. I’ve talked to her, and she will be supporting us,” he said.

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Pelosi’s support could prove critical for getting the $940 billion farm bill out of the House when it comes up for a vote in June. The bill faces opposition from liberals for its food stamp cuts and from conservatives who want deeper cuts to both food stamps and farm payments. 

“We’ve got to get 218 votes in the House. That’s a tricky thing because you have some Democrats who have taken the position that SNAP can’t be cut one penny, which I think is not defensible — I think that’s a ridiculous position,” Peterson said.

“And we have people on the other side who want $130 billion in cuts, and that’s ridiculous. So we have got to find out where that balance is,” he said.

Pelosi's office clarified Friday that the minority leader supports moving forward on a farm bill, but has not weighed in on the substance of the Agriculture Committee bill.

"As Ranking Member Peterson stated today, Leader Pelosi is supportive of getting a five year farm bill reauthorized. She is hopeful that the Republican leadership will bring the committee-passed bill to the floor under an open rule so that Members will have an opportunity to weigh in.  Sixteen million jobs are on the line, including 800,000 jobs in California," spokesman Drew Hammill said.

Peterson said Democrats should realize that the food stamp issue will be resolved in a conference committee with the Senate, and the Senate farm bill has only $4 billion in food stamp cuts. 

Both bills limit a current link between receiving heating aid and qualifying for food stamps, but the House bill eliminates a system of qualifying for benefits known as “categorical eligibility.” By steering individuals toward more paperwork hurdles, the proposal is projected to reduce use of food stamps. 

During a marathon markup session Wednesday, liberal Democrats attempted to reverse the $20.5 billion in food stamp cuts in the farm bill, but their amendment, sponsored by Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), was defeated by a vote of 17 to 27. 

Peterson said that, while Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) are going to oppose the farm bill, the majority whip who represents rural California will likely help pass it.

“Kevin McCarthy, who is the whip, probably will be for this bill. At the end of the day, there will be some help from their side,” Peterson predicted. 

The congressman said he and Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) are seeking a modified closed rule to limit the number of amendments on the floor when the bill comes up.

He predicted strong challenges to the sugar and dairy support systems in the bill. 

“We’re meeting starting Monday and Tuesday to put together our whip operation for dairy and sugar to make sure we have enough votes to maintain those programs on the floor,” he said, adding he is working with Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho).

Boehner has described the dairy supply management proposal in the bill as “Soviet style,” and Peterson said this week that the Speaker is lobbying members to oppose the proposal.

— This story was updated at 6:00 p.m. to clarify that Pelosi is supportive of moving a farm bill.