The election as well as lawmaker retirements have shaken up leadership roles on key House and Senate Committees with jurisdiction over agriculture and food, which could force Capitol Hill legislators to forge new friendships.
Leaders of the House Agriculture, House Appropriations, and Energy and Commerce committees, as well the Senate Agriculture, Senate Finance, and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions panels will look a lot different next Congress, and depending on who’s elected by their peers, policy could shift in major directions affecting agriculture.
Both the chair and ranking members positions on the House Ag Committee are up for grabs as both Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Mike Conaway, R- Texas, will be leaving in December, along with powerful House Appropriations Committee chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.
House Agriculture Committee
The biggest shake-up will be at the House Ag Committee, where Peterson, who had nearly three decades of knowledge in farm policy, lost to Republican challenger Michelle Fischbach. Democrats lost a few seats but still retained a majority in the House, which will allow them to choose the next chairman. Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., the top two senior members on the Democratic side, have officially expressed interest. After Peterson, Scott has the most seniority among committee Democrats.
On the Republican side, Conaway is leaving, and Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga. (no relation to David), Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson, R-Pa., and Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., are vying for the position. All of the candidates laid out their priorities earlier this year.
House Appropriations Committee
There are three Democrats battling to take over the powerful House Appropriations Committee. According to CQ Roll Call, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, is circulating a two-page document listing her priorities. Two others, including Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., a staunch critic of the Trump administration’s Department of Agriculture when it comes to nutrition and the animal supply chain, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., are also vying for the position.
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Energy and Commerce Committee
Outgoing ranking member Rep. Greg Walden’s, R- Ore., seat will need to be filled after he announced his retirement earlier this year. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, is eyeing that spot; Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., has the most seniority among committee Republicans, but already served six years as chair of the committee, eliminating him due to GOP committee leadership term limits. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill, who has more seniority than Burgess, is retiring. Ohio Rep. Bob Latta and Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers are also vying to be the top Republican on the committee, which has jurisdiction over the Environmental Protection Agency.
Senate Agriculture Committee
Sen. John Boozman, R- Ark., will take over Republican leadership of the Senate Agriculture Committee after Sen. Pat Roberts, R- Kan., leaves. A transition to Boozman — who will either be chair or ranking member pending the result of the Georgia special elections in January — would likely be smooth because he already has a good working relationship with Democratic Ranking member Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.
Environment and Public Works Committee
There also could be a shake-up on the Environment and Public Works Committee, which is currently chaired by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming. This committee has jurisdiction over the EPA, water infrastructure like locks and dams, and the Renewable Fuel Standard. Barrasso still has two years left as chair if Republicans retain their majority but has the opportunity to lead the Energy and Natural Resources Committee since Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is termed out.
“We’re in the middle of discussing all of those opportunities for us,” Barrasso told reporters.
Senate Finance Committee
In Senate Finance, Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is term limited and will transition back to heading the Judiciary Committee, putting Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, next in line to lead the committee in its jurisdiction over tax legislation and trade issues.Finance’s jurisdiction includes energy tax incentives as well as trade rules involving energy policy, and Crapo won’t be the champion for biofuels that Grassley is. Grassley’s switch to Judiciary means he’ll a lot of say over immigration policy under his jurisdiction, and he has sometimes been a tough sell for reforms sought by farm groups.
Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
The Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will be getting a new chair as Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tennessee) is set to retire at the end of the year. Next in seniority would be Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., but he has been accused of insider stock trading which could cost him his seat due to a pending investigation. This committee oversees actions by the Food and Drug Administration.
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