Collin Peterson, once among the leaders of the moderate Blue Dog Democrats who worked with moderate Republicans to fashion legislation in Congress, has represented Minnesota’s 7th District since 1991.
As chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, he can influence farm policy. However, the cards he holds are weak and room for maneuvering is squeezed by events and a White House that has bigger fish to fry.
The U.S. government is expected to run out of money by fall — if not sooner— unless the debt ceiling is lifted. It has been lifted several times before, but given the current political climate, the outlook for that now is dicey.
Budget deficit hawks have President Donald Trump’s ear in the person of Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Cabinet and acting White House chief of staff.
Other than defense spending, Mulvaney has proven credentials as a budget cutter in his current position and when he was a South Carolina congressman. His support for deep cuts in domestic spending is ironclad, which is a problem because Senate and House negotiators say he is next to impossible to negotiate with.
Agriculture spending — be it for crop insurance, export enhancement programs or lending — is an inviting target.
Peterson, who is not known to be pessimistic, sees looming farm financial collapse on the horizon.
He shared the pessimistic outlook in the July 11 edition of Agri News. The coming collapse, he said, will equal the disaster of the 1980s.
“It means foreclosures, it means land prices coming down, it means rent coming down,’’ he said. “And it could last. It could just be this winter is the tip of the iceberg and it could be worse.’’
Agricultural lenders, for the most part, have turned nearly as pessimistic.
Peterson, who attempted to strengthen the government safety net for farmers during 2018 Farm Bill negotiations, seems to have run out of possible solutions. The obvious reason is the Republican majority in the Senate and the minority in the House has shown scant interest in additional farm spending.
His advice apparently is to recommend farmers who are in trouble to go out of business before their last drop of equity is gone. That’s no solution at all.
Peterson may or may not be a realist, but as a defender of Midwest agricultural interests, he must strengthen his backbone so that a response is produced.
He may find unexpected allies among urban lawmakers, consumers and rural representatives regardless of political affiliation. He should not expect forward-thinking from Mulvaney, feckless USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue or others who work in the Trump White House.
Solutions exist, but searching for them and producing sound legislation requires strong wills. Peterson comes off as tired of the struggle.
Farmers needn’t be told to get out while they can. Solutions do exist, be it more spending on conservation programs and a meaningful commodity production control program.
Peterson needs to find the energy to find those solutions and carry them through a minefield of opposition. Too much is at stake in the fields and barns of rural America to let him flounder.