Who's in, who's out--2013 edition
By Larry Dreiling
Here we are again with another biennial edition of who's in, who's out and what's new in Washington for 2013.
The lead is really what's old. That's the old farm bill. We are in the midst of an extended 2008 farm bill, which gives farmers no idea on how to proceed into the future.
With the conclusion earlier this month of the 112th Congress, we'll now have to go through a new round of hearings and markups before we can even hope of getting a farm bill to pass.
Then again, given what has been said lately, this bill may wind up being law of the land for some time to come.
Recalcitrance by Republican House leadership and changes to committee membership, particularly in the Senate, will make passage of a new farm bill difficult, particularly as Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi asserts his seniority to become ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
That's a win for southern peanut and rice farmers still demanding a direct payment and a loss for Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, who loses his ranking member status and the primacy of position toward removal of fixed payments for program crops in favor of federally backed crop insurance.
While the chair, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, remains in place, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-GA, will no doubt demand the 2012 proposed farm bill the Senate passed be scrapped in favor of a new bill that adds fixed supports for his region's farmers.
In order for the added costs of such a program to be paid for, it means a real dogfight will ensue as majority Democrats try to keep nutrition payments from falling below what they already lost in the 2012 debate.
While the leadership of the House remains in place, there's again no clue so far if anything a newly reconstituted House Agriculture Committee would pass would make it past Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor and onto the House floor for debate.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma and Ranking Member Collin Peterson of Minnesota say they are both ready to proceed with work on a farm bill.
But Peterson, notably, wrote Boehner a letter as the new Congress opened, telling Boehner it would be a "fool's errand" to try to resurrect the farm bill in the new Congress if there no promise of fairer treatment by the Republican leadership than the agricultural committees received in the previous one.
Peterson also criticized Boehner for not allowing any debate on a farm bill extension. Peterson has been angry that the House did not properly schedule a vote on livestock disaster aid or on a proper dairy title.
Peterson let it all hang out in his letter, castigating Boehner for refusing to bring a new farm bill to the floor, telling Boehner, "Given the Republican leadership's objections to farm programs in general, I would not expect your team to bear responsibility for finding the votes to pass the Committee's farm bill; that would fall upon the Committee.
"I would ask that you let the House 'work its will' even if you have personal objections to the outcome.
"You and your leadership team seem very content with simply extending the 2008 farm bill year after year without making any effort at reform, achieving savings and efficiencies, or improving the farm safety net for rural America. If that is your goal, I will certainly accommodate you."
In interviews with Washington reporters after the fiscal cliff vote, Peterson said there would be no hearings or markup without assurances from Boehner or Cantor that floor debate would go forward. Peterson also declared he is done working with members of the Barack Obama administration.
"I'm done with them for the next four years," Peterson stated in a Politico article.
Meanwhile, because so few members of the last Congress lost re-election or retired, there really aren't very many changes to committee seats.
On the Senate side, former chair Richard Lugar, R-IN, lost in a primary for a race eventually won by a Democrat. Because Democrats added seats in the election, Lugar's committee seat will not be refilled.
One notable High Plains Senate change is a switch in a Nebraska seat from Democrat to Republican, as Ben Nelson leaves and Deb Fischer is sworn in.
Fischer's ascendency is interesting because she was a rancher and two-term state senator from the Sandhills town of Valentine running in the primary against State Attorney General Jon Bruning and State Treasurer Don Stenberg. Her win in the general election was almost assured, even with former Sen. Bob Kerrey--returning to the state from New York City, where he has lived since leaving the Senate--trying to mount a comeback.
Fischer will not serve on the Agriculture Committee, but her election is notable due to her fresh-faced background and upset primary victory.
On the House side, two urban Democrats from High Plains states were added: Michelle Lujan Grisham of Albuquerque, N.M., and Filemon Vela of Brownsville, Texas.
House Republican aggies added new members, as well, but not from High Plains states. Some Kansas Hill watchers were hoping for a long-shot appointment of Rep. Lynn Jenkins to the committee, but that didn't occur. Since the removal of Rep. Tim Huelskamp from his committee post, this leaves one of the most agriculturally oriented states in the nation without a member on the House Agriculture Committee.
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by email at email@example.com.