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Election Returns Spell Some Changes for Congressional Agriculture Makeup

November 7, 2012

With election returns beginning to firm up, it is now clear there will be a modest number of changes to the congressional committees that deal directly with agricultural issues. This post summarizes the basic nuts and bolts of those changes.

What the agriculture committees look like for the next session of Congress looms large if the new farm bill is postponed until 2013 rather than being finished up in the lame duck session of this Congress that starts next week. If the new five-year farm bill is finalized in the lame duck session, new members may be somewhat less inclined to join the agriculture committees.

Similarly, the agricultural appropriations bill for the current fiscal year could possibly be wrapped up during the lame duck session, but is more likely to be held over until next year, in which case appropriators (including any new members) will be doing double duty in 2013, working to finish the FY 2013 bill and then tackling the FY 2014 bill.

House Agriculture Committee

Even before Election Day, two Republicans and three Democrats were on their way out for the next Congress — rural development and research subcommittee chair Tim Johnson (R-IL-15) and nutrition and horticulture subcommittee chair Jean Schmidt (R-OH-2), plus conservation subcommittee ranking member Tim Holden (D-PA-17) and livestock, dairy and poultry subcommittee ranking member Dennis Cardoza (D-CA-18).

Four members of the House Agriculture Committee were defeated on Election Day – commodity and crop insurance subcommittee ranking member Leonard Boswell (D-IA-3), nutrition and horticulture subcommittee ranking member Joe Baca (D-CA-35), Bobby Schilling (R-IL-17), and Larry Kissell (D-NC-8) are now on their way out at the end of the year. Mike McIntyre (D-NC-7) is clinging to a narrow lead in his re-election race as we go to press.  Assuming he retains his lead, he will be the second most senior Democrat on the Committee.

Assuming the number of total Agriculture Committee seats stays the same, that the allocation of seats between the two parties stays the same, and that no one leaves the committee for other assignments, there will be three Republican openings and at least five Democratic openings.

More importantly, assuming the subcommittees remain the same and do not get consolidated or changed, there will be two subcommittee chair positions and four subcommittee ranking member positions up for grabs.  At the full committee level, both Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK-3) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN-7) are expected to remain in those positions.

Senate Agriculture Committee

All of the likely changes to the make up of the Senate Agriculture Committee happened prior to Election Day, with Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) retiring and Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) losing his primary. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) all won re-election and are expected to return to the Committee.

Assuming the overall Committee numbers and party ratio stay the same and that no one leaves the Committee, there will be two Democratic and one Republican slot open. Assuming Heidi Heitkamp is declared the winner in the North Dakota race to succeed Conrad (she is ahead by 1 percent with all precincts reporting, but there may be a recount), she would likely be a lock to join the Committee. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), who was also an upset winner in the race to succeed Lugar, might be a possibility for the committee, though there are other possibilities as well.

Deb Fischer (R-NE), who defeated former Senate Agriculture Committee member Bob Kerrey in the Nebraska Senate race, would be a very unlikely addition to the Committee given that Senator and former USDA Secretary Mike Johanns (R-NE) is already on the Committee, though having two from the same state on the same side of the aisle is not completely unprecedented.

Though subcommittees tend to be relatively unimportant in the Senate Committee, there will be an opening for chair of the commodity and crop insurance subcommittee to replace Nelson and for ranking member for the nutrition, specialty crop, and research subcommittee to replace Lugar.

House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee

Once the deck gets reshuffled in the new Congress for the full committee, something could happen to create a vacancy on the Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee, but no changes result from Election Day per se. All eleven members, including Tom Latham (R-IA-3) who was in a close contest with Agriculture Committee member Leonard Boswell (D-IA-3) in a race between incumbents, will be returning. At this point in time, it seems likely that Jack Kingston (R-GA-1) and Sam Farr (D-CA-20) will be back as chair and ranking member, respectively.

Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee

The big change for Senate Agriculture Appropriations will be the retirement of the Chairman Herb Kohl (D-WI). In contention to take that job in the next Congress is Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD). The only other definite change is the loss of retiring Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) on the majority side.

With at least two Democratic seats on the Committee open, Senator Jon Tester, victorious in his re-election race against Representative Dennis Rehberg (R-MT) yesterday, would be a likely addition to the subcommittee. He is already an appropriator, but not currently on the agriculture subcommittee.

Whether Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), who won election to the seat currently held by Kohl, would become an appropriator in the Senate remains to be seen. She is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee as a Representative.

Also a wild card for Senate Appropriations is whether full committee Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS), who is also a member of the agriculture subcommittee and a former chair of the authorizing Agriculture Committee, will step down from that position or get a waiver from the term limits for that position which expire for him in December.  If forced to step down, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) is next in line.  If that happens, it would be possible for Senator Cochran to reclaim the top Republican position on the Agriculture Committee if he were so inclined.

Categories: Budget and Appropriations, Farm Bill, General Interest

One response to “Election Returns Spell Some Changes for Congressional Agriculture Makeup”

  1. […] reason for optimism is the fact that there are five slots for Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee. So, if the bill does get pushed ahead to 2013, there may be a more established sustainable […]