Midwest, South split new GOP seats on Senate Ag panel

By Philip Brasher

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2014 - Four newly elected Republican senators, including Iowa's Joni Ernst and Nebraska's Ben Sasse, will be joining the Senate Agriculture Committee for the new Congress. 

David Perdue of Georgia and North Carolina's Thom Tillis are the other two new GOP members, providing some geographic balance.

But the committee's battles in the new Congress will be less geographically based, as they often are with farm bills, and more ideological in nature. The committee's to-do list includes reauthorizing child nutrition programs and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The new Republicans on the committee are staunch conservatives.  

Lets Talk Food Ernst's appointment means Iowa will retain two seats on the committee, since Republican Chuck Grassley will keep his place. Ernst, who won national attention with an ad touting her experience castrating hogs, replaces retiring Democrat Tom Harkin, a former chairman of the committee. 

Republicans will have an 11-9 majority, the reverse margin from the current Congress. 

Both parties have finalized committee assignments. Republicans have yet to formally announce chairmanships of committees or subcommittees. But Pat Roberts of Kansas is in line to chair Agriculture, while Mississippi's Thad Cochran, Agriculture's current ranking member, will take over the chairmanship of Appropriations. 

The Agriculture Committee's Democratic lineup will stay the same except for the loss of Harkin and John Walsh of Montana. The committee's current chairwoman, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, will become ranking member.

Walsh's Montana successor, Rep. Steve Daines, and three other newly elected Republicans - Reps. James Lankford of Oklahoma, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana - received plum assignments to Senate Appropriations. 

The panel will be especially important next year because Republicans are expected to use the appropriations process to advance policy changes that would be more vulnerable to veto if passed as standalone bills. 

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The committee will get three new Democratic members: Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Christopher Murphy of Connecticut. Republicans will control the panel 16-14.

The Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the Renewable Fuel Standard and the Clean Water Act as well as other environmental issues, will have two newly elected Republican members, Mike Rounds of South Dakota and Dan Sullivan of Alaska. 

Rounds is likely to provide some support to Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., on renewable energy issues. Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, who will take over as chairman, is a longtime critic of biofuel policy.

The Senate Finance Committee, which is critical to agriculture interests because of its oversight of tax and trade legislation, will get three new Republican members, none of them newly elected: Dan Coats of Indiana, Dean Heller of Nevada and Tim Scott of South Carolina. 

Republicans will have a 14-12 majority on the panel. Democrats currently control the committee by 13-11. 

Cassidy will be the lone newly elected Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions panel, which oversees FDA. 

Click here to see a list of the entire Republican membership on every Senate committee. The Democrats on each Senate panel can be seen here. 

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