New House Ag Committee taking shape

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2017 - The full slate of House Agriculture Committee Republicans has been finalized, bringing a clearer picture to the panel that will shape the next farm bill.

The committee will add six Republican freshmen to replace three retired members and three who left the committee for other appointments. This comes after news yesterday that five new Democrats would replace a handful retiring members and two members expected to join other committees.

In a statement, committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, called the new committee roster “a great group of incoming and returning members.”

“Their diverse backgrounds will be integral as the committee goes to work,” Conaway said, specifically mentioning goals such as protecting the farm safety net, working to improve the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and rolling back “burdensome” regulations. “I am confident in the team we have assembled, and I look forward to working alongside my new colleagues.” 

The new Republican members are Jodey Arrington of Texas, Don Bacon of Nebraska, James Comer of Kentucky, Neal Dunn of Florida, John Faso of New York, and Roger Marshall of Kansas.

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Marshall received attention from many national ag interests during his primary campaign against former Congressman Tim Huelskamp, whose über-conservative policies led to House leadership booting him from the agriculture committee. Marshall - an OB-GYN from western Kansas - can now deliver on a campaign promise to serve on the panel.

“It absolutely was the defining piece to the campaign,” Marshall said, adding that he was “happy for us, but I'm mostly happy for Kansas agriculture.” Bragging that the district he represents - “the Big First” in Kansas - is the largest ag producer in the country, Marshall said, “We deserve a voice on the House Ag Committee, and I'm just glad for Kansans that we have that voice now.”

Marshall said he hopes the committee will “turn out a quality farm bill” and exercise its “significant oversight” over the Environmental Protection Agency.

Four of the new Republicans - Arrington, Bacon, Dunn and Faso - come from districts that were represented in the committee in the 114th Congress by members who either retired or were defeated at the ballot box.

Conaway also announced that Pennsylvania Republican Glenn Thompson will serve as vice chairman of the committee. Thompson chaired the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee in the last Congress.

As Agri-Pulse previously reported, Pennsylvanian Dwight Evans, Al Lawson and Darren Sota of Florida, Tom O'Halleran of Arizona, and Jimmy Panetta of California are the new Democrats on the panel. Panetta, the son of former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, represents the district vacated by the retirement of Sam Farr, who was the ranking member on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

Four members of the committee have left the panel to secure more coveted spots on other panels.

Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., served one term on the committee, where she chaired the Subcommittee on Nutrition. That subcommittee, and the committee as a whole, undertook an exhaustive review of SNAP during the last Congress. Walorski will join Washington Democrat Suzan DelBene in heading to the Ways and Means Committee, which could address tax reform, one of the goals of President-elect Donald Trump.

Second-term Republicans John Moolenaar of Michigan and Dan Newhouse of Washington have both been named to the House Appropriations Committee. That panel controls budget allocations to different government agencies, including the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. It remains to be seen if either member will receive an appointment to that panel's Agriculture and Rural Development Subcommittee.

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California Democrat Pete Aguilar, who served on the ag committee in the last congress, has also been named to the appropriations committee. While the moves of DelBene and Aguilar are expected, a spokeswoman for the House Agriculture Committee minitory staff said a complete list of Democratic members may not be available until next week. 

In the Senate, Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen is the only freshman senator to join the Agriculture Committee. Montana Republican Steve Daines and Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions were also named to the committee, although Sessions would have to resign his position if he is confirmed as the next attorney general.

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