(Feb. 15, PACKER WEB EXCLUSIVE) With time running out on the farm bill, House lawmakers outlined a framework for new legislation that would cut spending on numerous agricultural programs — including nutrition — compared to bills that passed the House and Senate last year.

“We’ve done all we can do,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., after introducing the proposal in a Feb. 13 conference call with Virginia Rep. Robert Goodlatte, the leading Republican on the committee. “We’re stuck because there’s no agreement on how much we can spend.”

President Bush has threatened to veto both the bill passed by the House in July and the bill the Senate passed in December. Peterson’s proposal would spend about $6 billion more than the budget baseline, but the extra spending is far less than what is proposed in the House and Senate bills.

“We believe this offer represents a package that is moving in a direction of a bill that the president would sign,” U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer and Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner said in a statement.

However, the Associated Press reported that Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and John Thune, R-S.D., were critical of Peterson’s plan. Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told the AP, “that proposal isn’t going to fly.”

Peterson’s proposal cuts nutrition funding from the $11.5 billion suggested in the House bill to $8.5 billion. It also says there will be some “reduction in funding for specialty crop provisions” but does not offer specifics. The plan also puts stricter limits on subsidy payments.

Peterson said that in making cuts he attempted to “distribute the pain across all areas of the farm bill” to “disappoint everyone equally.”

He said, however, that his proposal was not “set in granite” but was an attempt to show that Congress can write a bill that President Bush will sign. Peterson said he was determined to move the bill forward because Congress will recess the week of Feb. 18, leaving legislators only three weeks to hammer out a compromise before the 2002 bill expires on March 15.

“The positive of this is that it has jump started the process,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association. “It’s a start. I’m still optimistic we can get something done by the 15th. If they can come up with a number that everyone agrees on, I think it can get done very easily.”

Peterson has said that if the negotiations stall, Congress might allow ag policy to revert to statutes from the 1940s. That would eliminate newer programs, including those that have created funds for the produce industry.