While the path towards a new farm bill remains unclear, leadership changes and new members of the House and Senate agriculture committees were coming in focus in early January.
In the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., gave up his ranking member position to Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. Cochran had hit the term limit as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“Senator Thad Cochran is going to assert his seniority on the Ag Committee and will become the ranking member,” Roberts said in a news release. “Seniority is a well-respected and historic privilege in the U.S. Senate. Senator Cochran has my full support.”
Roberts vowed to remain an advocate for agriculture and he continues as a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Roberts becomes ranking member of the Rules Committee and also remains a member of the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Select Committee on Ethics and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
One Republican who will not return to the Senate Agriculture Committee is Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who lost a primary election battle last year. Because Republicans lost seats in the Senate, Lugar’s seat won’t be replaced with another Republican and the ratio of Democrats and Republicans on the committee will climb slightly for Democrats.
Cochran said in a statement said he will work on advancing a new farm bill with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the committee.
New Democrats on the Senate Agriculture Committee include Joe Donnelly from Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota.
Cochran will represent the interests of southern producers but has been familiar with all farm policy for many years, said Kam Quarles, director of legislative affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based McDermott Will & Emery law firm, Still, Cochran may be interested in taking a fresh look at specifics of farm bill legislation developed last year, Quarles said.
“The process of rewriting the farm bill begins anew,” Quarles said.
One of the big unknowns is how much money lawmakers will have work with in 2013 for a new farm bill.
“That’s an unknown and likely to be less than we had last year,” he said.
Quarles wouldn’t speculate whether it will be the House or Senate that will take the lead in work on a new five-year farm bill.
For the House Agriculture Committee, chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., announced several new Republican members, including two from California. The new Republican members are Dan Benishek (Michigan), Chis Collins (New York), Jeff Denham (California), Richard Hudson (North Carolina), Doug LaMalfa (Califoria), and Ted Yoho (Florida) Quarles said Denham and LaMalfa should give a fresh perspective to the GOP wing of the committee, because it has been years since a California Republican has served on the House Agriculture Committee.
“It was a little unusual that you would have the largest agriculture state in the country without any representation on the majority side,” Quarles said. “Now you have two, so that’s an interesting change.”
House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said new Democrats appointed to the House Agriculture Committee include Michelle Lujan Grisham (New Mexico), Ann Kuster, (New Hampshire), Gloria McLeod (California), and Filemon Vela (Texas).