By Seymour Klierly
The 112th Congress is officially in the lame-duck session and regardless of policy achievements or lack thereof, the 113th Congress will have a new cast of characters for agriculture. Several changes in positions are already known; however, there are plenty of scenarios and possible shake-ups left before the election dust settles in Washington.
At this time, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, D-IA, is continuing in his cabinet roll for President Barack Obama. The president has looked to hold off the cycle of attrition from the cabinet after his reelection, especially after the debacle with Gen. David Petraeus at the CIA and a fight over the secretary of state's role. Yet, the USDA already has its first departure--Risk Management Agency Administrator Bill Murphy announced that he will retire this Dec. 31. Brandon Willis has been named acting administrator, after previously serving as a senior adviser to Vilsack. Other USDA agency heads may change as the new year begins and attention fades from turnover stories.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate Agriculture Committee will have several new faces around the table. Sens. Kent Conrad, D-ND, and Ben Nelson, D-NE, both retired before the election cycle. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, won a hard-fought general election over Rep. and House Agriculture Committee member Rick Berg, R-ND, and is expected to keep the North Dakota slot on the committee. For the Republicans, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-IN, lost his reelection battle in the primary phase of his campaign and will not return to the hill.
The ratio, the number of Republicans and Democrats on the committee, has yet to be set by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV. With Democrats gaining seats in the Senate, there is the possibility that Lugar's seat will not be replaced with a Republican. If the ratio stays in the same, expect Deb Fischer, R-NE, to be at the top of the list looking for a spot on the committee. Negotiations over the ratio are continuing and could be decided before the end of December allowing both parties to officially announce the full membership of the committee before January.
With each House member on the ballot every two years, there are already several changes for the House Agriculture Committee. Before Election Day, two Republicans and three Democrats chose not to return to the House for the next Congress. Additionally, four members including Leonard Boswell, D-IA; Joe Baca, D-CA; Bobby Schilling, R-IL; and Larry Kissell, D-NC, were defeated on Election Day.
The most recent development is that Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-KS, has not been slated to return to the House Agriculture Committee by the Republican Steering Committee. The move comes after Huelskamp hosted a farm bill hearing in Kansas but ultimately voted against the farm bill in committee.
As 2012 wanes, additional changes to the landscape in Washington may occur. For several policymakers and administration officials, this year may end up being their curtain call; for others, it may be their first act under the spotlight.
Editor's note: Seymour Klierly writes Washington Whispers for the Journal from inside the Beltway.