Sen. Pat Roberts says his move from Ranking Member to Senior Member on the House Agriculture committee will not diminish his voice on behalf of Kansas farmers and ranchers and may even offer him a chance to be more influential.
In a telephone interview shortly after the announcement he would support the seniority invocation by Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi to be ranking member, Roberts said that the fallout from challenging Cochran was not something he felt was good for the Senate, the country, or Kansas Farmers and Ranchers.
"I have known Thad for 20 years and he is a good friend," Roberts said. "Seniority is a historic privilege in the Senate and to challenge it would create an issue all out of proportion to the reality of this situation."
Roberts will retain his position as senior member of the Finance Committee, a position that allows him to influence reform of the tax code and advocate for rural health care.
He said he is also now able to assert his own seniority privilege to gain status as Ranking Member of the Rules Committee.
"This is a committee that is increasingly important in the defense of the rights of the minority," he said. "I will advocate for the standard rules of order, for allowing amendments by anyone on any bill."
He said he will also have a voice in changes to campaign finance law or election law as a member of the Rules Committee.
"In the end, it doesn't matter if I hold the gavel, if I'm Ranking Member of Senior Member or just a part of the committee, my top priority is still agriculture and I will use my voice on behalf of Kansas farmers and ranchers."
Roberts said in some ways that voice can be stronger on the agriculture committee because he is not the Ranking Member.
"As Ranking Member, the importance of working with the Chairwoman sometimes meant being less vocal," Roberts said. "As senior member, I will have an opportunity to speak up that I didn't have before."
Roberts said he is disappointed that Congress will be starting over on a Farm Bill, but is relieved that there is at least 9 months of certainty with the extension of the 2008 bill. And he said the restoration of direct payments, which would have been eliminated in the legislation passed by the Senate but stalled in the House, might be a Godsend for Kansas farmers if the drought continues in the summer of 2013.
"It may turn out that those payments prevent the need for disaster aid," he said. "It could turn out to all be a good thing."
He acknowledged that Cochron's position as Ranking Member may give a stronger voice to rice and peanut farmers who were not happy with the bill crafted by the Senate last year. At the same time, he said, he believed even as the Senate passed its bill last year, that it would have to be amended in conference to better support rice and peanut farmers before it could pass the full Congress.
As Thursday's news of the change in Ranking Member status spread, Roberts garnered expressions of support from farm organizations across Kansas, who reiterated their confidence in his support. The Kansas Corn Growers Association, Kansas Grain Sorghum Growers Association, Kansas Feed and Grain Association, Kansas Wheat and others expressed their appreciation of Roberts' efforts and their continued support.