Several key House committees will be chaired in the coming Congress by Republican lawmakers who represent districts with significant farm production or have an agricultural background themselves.
The new chairmen include Texas Rep. Jodey Arrington, who will run the Budget Committee, putting him in the middle of a coming battle over federal spending, and Missouri Rep. Jason Smith, who won the highly coveted chairmanship of Ways and Means, which oversees tax and trade policy as well as Medicare and Social Security.
Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is taking over the Energy and Commerce Committee, whose sweeping jurisdiction includes FDA and EPA as well as health care and energy policy.
“Having other key committee chairs who have been supportive of past farm bills is a major plus,” longtime ag lobbyist Randy Russell told Agri-Pulse.
Arrington “certainly knows the importance of farm programs, crop insurance, trade programs and research. Overall this should help on the budget as well as with helping to build support within the GOP caucus” for the farm bill, Russell said.
Having some farm bill experience in the House at large will be especially important when the farm bill reaches the House floor. Much of the Ag Committee’s new membership will be learning on the job; only nine of the committee’s 27 GOP members were on the panel when the 2018 farm bill passed.
Here is a look at some key House committees:
Arrington, who got the Budget chairmanship after Smith won the Ways and Means post, represents a western Texas district that encompasses one of the largest cotton-producing regions in the nation and the world.
Republicans are expected to use the committee to a produce a blueprint to balance the budget in 10 years. The budget resolution could then be used to guide the development of the farm bill.
How much impact the budget resolution ultimately will have on the farm bill remains to be seen, but Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., said he has been communicating directly with Arrington about the funding needs for the farm bill.
A senior Republican on Ag, Austin Scott of Georgia, told Agri-Pulse he hopes the budget resolution provides the funding allocation needed to ensure commodity programs reflect the impact of increased input costs.
“I feel good about Jodey being there and, hopefully, the Budget Committee will give us a little bit of leeway to do some more things for the farmer,” said Scott, who is expected to chair Ag’s General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee.
The House budget resolution likely can't pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, but Republicans have said they won’t agree to increase the debt ceiling unless Democrats agree to some new discipline on spending.
Arrington has said the nation’s “unsustainable debt is the greatest challenge of the 21st century.”
“It will take a team effort across the GOP Conference and across the aisle to restore fiscal responsibility and reverse the curse. I look forward to working with all of my colleagues to ensure the next generations of Americans inherit the same freedoms and opportunities we did,” Arrington said in a statement.
Ways and Means
Smith, who beat out Vern Buchanan of Florida and Adrian Smith of Nebraska for the coveted Ways and Means chairmanship, represents a large swath of southeast Missouri. He's a lawyer and owns a farm that has been in his family for four generations and currently produces Angus cattle and white buffalo.
Smith has worked with the Missouri Farm Bureau on farm policy since his days in the state legislature and will be “very pro ag” on Ways and Means, said Blake Hurst, a former president of the state farm group. Hurst said Smith is “a little more skeptical of trade deals than I wish he was, but (he) voted our way when it counted.”
Smith has indicated the committee will prioritize countering China’s economic influence.
“We will examine using both trade policy and our tax code to re-shore and strengthen our supply chains, where products and services vital to our national security are made here at home using American labor, as well as craft policies that help America achieve food and medical security rather than dependence on nations like China,” Smith said in a statement.
Missouri’s 8th District ranked 50th in total agriculture production in USDA’s 2017 agricultural census, and the district boundaries haven’t changed significantly since then.
Notable new members: Two Republicans representing two of the most productive farm districts in the Midwest, Randy Feenstra of Iowa and Michelle Fischbach of Minnesota. Feenstra represents much of western and north central Iowa. Fischbach’s district comprises most of western Minnesota. Also added to the committee was New York Rep. Claudia Tenney, who represents a region that is a significant producer of milk and apples.
Other Ways and Means members with major farm districts who were already on the committee include Arrington and California Democrat Jimmy Panetta, who represents the Salinas Valley.
Democrats have yet to name their committee rosters for the new Congress.
Energy and Commerce
The new chairwoman of the committee, McMorris Rodgers represents Washington’s 5th District, which stretches across the wheat-growing eastern fourth of the state.
FDA regulates the safety of 80% of the food supply, virtually everything except meat and poultry, and is under pressure to do a reorganization that would put more emphasis on its food responsibilities. The Renewable Fuel Standard falls under her purview, as well as the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws with sweeping impact on farmers.
McMorris Rodgers is expected to lead oversight of the Biden administration's climate policy and implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act, including Energy Department lending for climate-related projects.
“Trust and confidence in representative government is broken," she said in a statement. "Accountability in federal agencies is nonexistent, so the Biden administration is pushing radical policies to please its political allies. And the American people are paying the price for it – at the pump, at the grocery store, and at the doctor’s office."
Notable new members: Republicans Rick Allen of Georgia and Kat Cammack of Florida, both Ag Committee members in the last Congress. Cammack also got a waiver to stay on Ag for the next two years.
Other new members include August Pfluger, who comes from a longtime west Texas ranching family, and Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who represents Iowa’s 1st District in the southeast part of the state. Pfluger’s district was once represented by Mike Conaway, who chaired the Ag Committee when the 2018 farm bill was enacted.
The new chairman, Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, is an engineer and forester, with a bachelor's degree in biological and agricultural engineering from the University of Arkansas and a master of forestry from Yale University. The committee has oversight over public lands agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management.
In a statement, he said the committee would "show the world that conservation is inherently conservative. Republicans have been hard at work turning discussions with constituents into science-based, commonsense policy that works for everyone."
Notable new members: First-term Reps. John Duarte, a California farmer, and Harriet Hageman of Wyoming, an attorney who grew up on a ranch. Duarte paid a civil penalty after the Army Corps of Engineers accused him of illegally disturbing land considered protected under the Clean Water Act.
Transportation and Infrastructure
Rep. Sam Graves, another Missouri farmer, will chair the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. His 6th District, bordered on the north by Iowa, stretches between the Missouri and Mississippi rivers north of Kansas City and St. Louis.
The committee’s to-do list for the new Congress will include reauthorizing the Water Resources Development Act, which authorizes port and waterway projects.
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Notable new members: Duarte, Tracey Mann of Kansas and Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin, all of whom also have seats on the Ag Committee.
Science, Space and Technology
Former Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas will be the chairman of Science, Space and Technology. One of the issues he wants to address is making "American energy cleaner and more affordable," he said in a statement. Lucas, who also is returning to the Ag Committee this year, is from a longtime farming family in western Oklahoma.
There are relatively few major changes on this committee when it comes to agriculture. Texas Rep. Kay Granger will chair the committee, and Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland will take over the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which writes the annual spending bill for USDA, FDA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho will chair the Interior-Environment Subcommittee, which writes the spending bill for the Interior Department, EPA and the Forest Service.
Harris, a physician, had reportedly sought to chair the Labor-HHS Subcommittee rather than Ag; he was ranking member on the Ag Subcommittee in the last Congress. Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt, who once chaired Ag Appropriations, got the Labor-HHS post instead.
Notable new members: Texas Rep. Michael Cloud left his seat on House Ag this year for Appropriations. Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who was elected to the House from Montana in November, also got an Appropriations seat.
Subcommittee assignments have not been announced.
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