The top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee pledged Wednesday to seek to derail any effort to package a five-year farm bill conference agreement into an omnibus budget deal.
"I will fight that tooth and nail," Rep. Collin C. Peterson told reporters outside the conference meeting. "Even if they get a budget deal, if they put the farm bill in there, I will do everything I can to kill it, and it probably won't take much to kill the budget deal."
The Minnesota Democrat said such a move could further undermine the autonomy of the Agriculture panel within the House.
"I might as well just retire and go home," Peterson said. "If we're going to get a position where they're going to put the farm bill into some other bill, then what are we doing? You know, I mean that's a very dangerous precedent to start and to accept. That's my problem. It might be a great bill, but it's just the wrong thing to do because then the next thing you know, next time that's going to be what they're going to start out working on.
"The trouble with this place is the committees are not allowed to operate. Everything is driven from the top, and this is what's wrong with Congress," Peterson added, reminiscing about the way the House operated before a series of changes in 1974, which included internal caucus rule changes and the Budget Act that now governs operations.Specifically, Peterson was critical of the ability of party caucuses to select committee chairmen.
"Back in the old days, it was seniority, and you were chairman, and you ran the show. Now, Boehner, I think that's what he would prefer," Peterson said. "He's that kind of a guy, but you've got a lot of folks that don't want committees to operate."
Peterson also said he wouldn't accept the dairy provisions authored by Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., contained in the House bill. Peterson told reporters Wednesday he would now have the votes to kill Goodlatte's measure, which has had the backing of Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.
"We might have to bulldoze that one," Peterson said. "The Goodlatte provision is completely unworkable, unacceptable, and I will not take it under any circumstances."
Any House-Senate farm bill conference agreement would score as saving tens of billions of dollars over the next decade, thus becoming a potential sweetener if counted as part of a budget agreement to, for instance, prevent the next round of automatic budget cuts from taking effect through sequestration.
Despite Peterson's protestations, House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas signaled that many of his concerns about the interplay between the farm and budget processes had been eased in recent days.
"Let's address the policy. The savings we achieve can then be used where they need to be used," the Oklahoma Republican said, suggesting a plan to get a farm bill enacted and counting the budget savings elsewhere.
"We know that there's a larger budget issue, and we've always understood that by offering deficit reduction that we can be a part of any solution, but we will be the ones writing the farm bill and editing the farm bill," Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said at the same news conference.