WILLMAR -- U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson hopes to simplify farm programs in the next federal farm bill.
Revision of the current farm bill will begin next May, but Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said he wanted to get started early. Peterson was in Willmar Friday for a series of meetings with local business leaders.
Peterson, D-Minn., spent the past couple weeks traveling the country holding hearings on issues related to the next bill. Peterson represents the state's Seventh District, which includes most of the western third of Minnesota, from the Canadian border on the north to Lincoln, Lyon and Redwood counties on the south. Willmar is one of the larger cities in the district.
The early start gives the committee time to study some of the ideas presented in the hearings, he said.
"I think we need to change," Peterson said. He hopes to find ways to simplify farm program in many areas. Some ideas are changing the 85-year-old dairy price support program and improving programs for cotton and rice farmers. In addition to eight hearings in the past two weeks, he said, he has also met with commodity groups, "in order to jumpstart the discussion."
The early start also helped him keep politics out of the discussions, Peterson said.
"It was all very bipartisan," he said. At three of the eight hearings, he said, more Republican members of the Agriculture Committee attended, though they are outnumbered on the full committee.
Peterson said he was criticized at first for holding the first hearings so early, but that has faded. The Senate is now planning to hold its own farm bill hearings this summer.
"If you're going to make big changes, ... it needs to be bipartisan if it's going to work," he said.
"For the good of the country, we need to work together," he said.
Peterson said people in the district tell him they are upset about partisanship in Washington, but he holds the Agriculture Committee up as an example of one group that has been able to work across party lines.
"That's the way it used to work," he said. "Now, the problem is these campaigns are going on all the time."
Peterson said he believes the current partisan divides will be sorted out over time. "We always figure out in this country how to make things work."
The ballooning federal budget deficit is an area where the two parties need to work together, Peterson said.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and two major laws enacted to try to jumpstart the economy have all been added to the deficit, he said.
"I think the answer is everybody's going to have to feel some pain," he said.
There's no way to cut the budget enough to erase the deficit, and there's no way to raise enough revenue to do it, he said.
All segments of the budget would need to participate in a solution to make it work, Peterson said.
If farm programs receive less money in the next budget, "I'm OK with that, as long as everybody else makes some changes," he said.
Peterson said he's also OK with finding a way to raise more federal revenue through taxes, "as long as we don't spend it." He said he'd want to see additional revenue used to reduce the deficit.
"Whether we'll have the political will to do it, I don't know," he said.