ME.  Every election cycle, it makes sense to review the make-up of the Congressional Ag Committees as a starting point to see if leadership strategies have changed with respect to future food and agriculture policy.  Professor, did you notice any changes this last cycle?

BF.   Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts replaced Democrat Debbie Stabenow from Michigan as the Senate Committee Chair since the Republicans won a majority in the Senate.  Stabenow, who was Committee Chair, became the Ranking Minority Member.  Senator Thad Cochran, a Republican from Mississippi was the Ranking Minority Member last session and became second in majority rank. A few years back, Senator Roberts was Ranking Member on the Committee.  I see some change in emphasis with a change in majority party, but nothing has been accomplished yet.  

ME.  The House Agriculture Committee Chairmanship moved further South from Oklahoma to Texas.  Republicans retained their majority in the House, but former Ag Committee Chair Frank Lucas a Republican from Oklahoma was term limited out of the Chair and Republican K. Michael Conaway from Texas stepped up as Committee Chair.  Conaway is joined by Vice Chairs Randy Neugebauer of Texas and Bob Goodlatte of Virginia who was a former Agriculture Committee Chair. Collin Peterson of Minnesota stays on as Ranking Member for the Democrats in the House Agriculture Committee.

BF.  Except for minor technical corrections, Farm Bill issues would normally not be open for debate in a year following Farm Bill passage. But “right wingnut” rumblings about crop insurance, food stamps and immigration have not subsided since the November election.  Senate Committee Chairman Roberts has made his position clear on not reopening the crop insurance provisions and he has vowed to protect crop insurance in the budget and appropriations processes.  House Speaker Boehner has trouble controlling the “wingnuts” in his own party.  Ag Committee Chairman Conaway has made his intentions clear about reducing food stamp funding—in spite of a Farm Bill compromise resolution last year. Senator Stabenow indicates she won’t allow cuts in food stamps without reductions in crop insurance.  At the same time, a workable guest worker program for fruits and vegetables, dairy industry, and other agricultural sectors appears to be ignored because it is linked to immigration policy reform that is going nowhere.  So far it doesn’t look like the Republican-led Congress can do any better job in governing than when the Democrats were in majority. Congress has still not passed a budget.     

ME. The House Agriculture Committee has traditionally been dominated by the South with the North-central Region following suit.  Today there are 44 Members listed on the House Agriculture Committee with 17 from Southern states, 13 from the North-central Region, 9 from Western States, and 5 from the Northeast.  The Southern dominance is a little more pronounced if you factor in added influence of the majority party.  The Republican Members of the Committee have a regional breakdown of 13 from the South, 7 from the North-central, 3 from the West, and 2 from the Northeast.  So the Southern Republican Members of the House Committee represent a voting majority over the Committee Members from all of the other 3 Regions combined.   The 2 states with the most Agriculture Committee Members are California and Minnesota--each has 4 Agriculture Committee Members.  They represent Western and North-central Regions--not the South.  Both California and Minnesota have significant agriculture sectors and large metropolitan populations with interest in food policy as well as agriculture policy.  Barry, Iowa is down to one Member on the House Ag Committee and Kansas doesn’t have any Members on the Committee.    

BF.  Well we have a “right wingnut” who crossed the Speaker and got his butt kicked off the Committee. Some would argue Kansas is better off with no one than the one we had.  That plus the loss of Congressional Seats due to population migration from the North-central Region to the South and West are factors affecting the Committee make-up.  But Kansas and Iowa make up for it on the Senate Agriculture Committee where Senator Roberts is the Committee Chair and Iowa has two Senate Ag Committee Members in Senator Grassley and newly elected Senator Joni Ernst.  Overall, there are 11 Senators from the North-central Region, 5 from the South, 3 from the West and 1 from the Northeast.  So while the South may dominate House Agriculture Committee membership, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry is dominated by states from the North-Central Region. The North-Central Region interests have retained a voting majority in both parties on the Senate Ag Committee.  The only conclusion that one might draw is that the Southern Democrats have become an endangered species in Congress and on the Congressional Agriculture Committees in recent decades.  That has more to do with processes used to re-draw Congressional Districts boundaries after the Census than demographics.

ME.  Must be a disconnect somewhere--demographics will likely play a big role in electing the next President.  Iowans are starting to get polling calls on candidate preferences.  We had four presidential candidates announce campaigns this past week with Cruz, Paul, and Rubio for the Republicans and Clinton for the Democrats.  Senator Cruz essentially told the Iowa Ag Summit that he stands with the oil interests instead of agriculture on the Renewable Fuels Standard and seems to forget the tax incentives used to support oil and natural gas “fracking.”   If you consider the dynasty influence, we may likely end up with  Clinton and Bush campaigns in the general election, but a lot can happen before and after the Iowa Caucuses in the primary elections. 

BF.  Well the 3 stooges don’t know much about agriculture.  In contrast, former Senator Clinton spent time working with agriculture interests in upstate New York and former Governor Bush spent time working with agriculture interests in Florida.  I can clearly make the case that given their track records, Clinton and Bush are the best candidates for Agriculture interests. During the primary season, many Republican candidates compete to see who can be more conservative. However since 1964, when a conservative candidate was elected in the primary, they did not win the general election.  Some believe Ronald Reagan was an exception--but while he communicated in a manner that appealed to conservatives during the elections, his budget deficits and fiscal policies reversed the policy of reducing the federal debt as a percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) followed by every President since World War II.  Demographic trends currently favor a Democrat outcome as it remains to be seen whether a Republican can get through the primary season and still appeal to seniors on health care and the Hispanic vote on immigration reform.


*  Edelman is a professor of Economics at Iowa State University and Flinchbaugh is emeritus professor of Agricultural Economics at Kansas State University.