TO say Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) is mad about how the farm bill was handled last year might be an understatement.
Peterson is one of the few remaining Blue Dog Democrats, or more moderate members, on Capitol Hill. He has been known to regularly work across party lines while still being a bulldog for agriculture.
Just when he wrapped up the 2008 farm bill, he began to go to work on ways to improve it, his staffers recalled, and it was his initial proposal for transforming dairy programs that became the basis for the Dairy Security Act that was approved in the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee last year.
He tells it like it is and leaves no question as to where he stands on an issue, but after how the farm bill was handled (or not handled) in 2012, he wants House leadership to ensure that the House Agriculture Committee won't "undertake the fool's errand to craft another long-term farm bill" if the leaders refuse to consider the bipartisan work.
In letters to both Speaker of the House John Boehner (R., Ohio) and majority leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R., Va.), Peterson pointed out that the leaders' words don't match their actions.
In the letter to Boehner, Peterson noted that prior to becoming speaker, Boehner said he had "nothing to fear from letting the House work its will -- nothing to fear from the battle of ideas. That starts with the committees," in reference to allowing committees, not the leadership, to set the agenda.
Peterson acknowledged that given the leaders' "long-standing opposition to farm programs and previous farm bills," it was no surprise that there were provisions in the bill that they wouldn't support.
However, he added, "instead of allowing those objections to be aired in an open debate and letting the House 'work its will,' the Republican leadership bottled up the committee's farm bill and drafted alternatives in the speaker's and majority leader's offices, bypassing both the chairman and members of the agriculture committee and making a mockery of regular order."
Peterson went on to ask the leaders to provide a written commitment for floor time if the committee marks up a new five-year farm bill. He said he expects that it should take no more than a month for leadership to determine the appropriate time for floor consideration and to announce that date publicly.
Peterson also challenged the notion that there weren't enough votes to pass the 2012 farm bill, saying the leaders never conducted a whip count asking members whether they would vote for or against the committee package.
"I brought together members from both parties to conduct a count, and we found enough votes to pass the bill," he wrote.
"Given the Republican leadership's objections to farm programs in general, I would not expect your team to bear responsibility for finding the votes to pass the committee's farm bill; that would fall upon the committee," Peterson noted.
Peterson pointed out in an interview last week that too many bills are being written in negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders, leaving out the rank-and-file members. The end result: policies written by people who don't fully understand the issues.
Peterson hasn't heard back from the House leaders yet on his request, nor did he expect a quick response, but Boehner has made comments that he intends to change the way he operates and go back to regular order.
Let's see if he can live up to that statement.