Top Republican Senate Agriculture Committee In Play?

DC Dialogue

Status quo election could still bring some different faces to House and Senate agriculture committees and leadership spots.

Published on: November 20, 2012

The election did bring a status quo in a sense of a Republican-controlled House and Democrat-led White House and Senate. However, the dynamic of members for the Senate and House Agriculture Committees could see changes in the 113th Congress.

Overall one-third of House members will be serving their first and or second term in the 113th Congress. Erik Johnson, associate legislative director for agriculture and rural affairs at the National Association of Counties, said this alone will require continued education on the part of new members of agriculture's needs.

Some of the most surprising leadership news came last week with reports that Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss, may want to resume his role as Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member from Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who now holds the position. If Cochran, must step down from his leadership position on the appropriations committee due to term limits, he would have seniority over Roberts. Roberts said he intends to stay, which may set up a vote by current ag committee members.

Cochran and Roberts do not see eye to eye on farm policy, specifically on price supports, one of the major stumbling blocks that have divided South and Midwest producers' support of the Senate farm bill.

Also on the Senate side, this year brought the departure of three "old pros" to the Senate Agriculture Committee, said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., both retired, and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., lost his primary.

Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Bob Casey, D-Penn., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., all won re-election and are expected to return to the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Assuming the overall Senate Agriculture Committee numbers and party ratio stasy the same and that no one leaves the committee, there will be two Democratic and one Republican slots open. Hoefner said the balance could bring a total of three new Democrats to the committee.

Newly elected Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., won the seat previously held by retiring Sen. Kent Conrad (D) and is a likely addition. Sen.-elect Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Sen.-elect Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., make logical choices for the Democrat open seats. Hoefner said the Republican seat is a little less clear since Sen.-elect Deb Fischer would be a good choice with her agricultural roots representing Nebraska, however Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., already sits on the committee.

On the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Ill., retired, and Reps. Tim Holden, D-Penn. and Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, both lost in the primary. Those who lost in the general election were Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, Joe Baca, D-Calif., Larry Kissell, D-N.C., and Bobby Schilling, R-Ill.

House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., won reelection and are expected to remain in their leadership positions.

Hoefner noted that there will be some changes at the subcommittee level with those who were ousted, with two subcommittee chairs and two ranking member subcommittee positions open.

Rep. Jack Kingston, R.-Ga., is the current chair of the agricultural appropriations subcommittee. It is up in the air as to whether he will stay on in that post, or move to a different committee. After securing a win over Boswell, Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, may be next in line for Kingston's chairmanship should he choose to move.