Committee Musical Chairs!

November 26, 2002

November 26, 2002

We are looking at a lot of change in the chairmanships of some very important committees in Congress. What will this mean for Agriculture is the big question. Next year Republicans will chair all Senate and House committees. Out with Senator Harkin of Iowa, in with Senator Cochran of Mississippi to chair the Senate Ag Committee. Senator Cochran is well liked and is from the same state as the Senate Majority leader Trent Lott which should add to his clout. Senator Cochran is a traditional farm program guy with a special support for rice and a fierce opponent of payment limitations. He places perhaps somewhat less emphasis on conservation than Senator Harkin.

Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa farmer, will chair the Senate Finance Committee. That's significant because that's where the money is With Republicans maintaining control of the House you might expect no change. However, Ag Committee Chair Larry Combest surprised everyone by announcing that for personal reasons he will retire in May. Congressman Combest provided exceptional leadership last year in pushing the farm bill through the House. If we were writing the farm bill now, with a growing budget deficit staring us in the face, it would not be as generous as the one we have.

All indications now are that Congressman Bob Goodlet grom Virginia will step into Larry Combest's shoes this spring. I called to offer an early congratulation to Congressman Goodlatte and asked if he had any words for the farm audience. He said his first priority would be to insure that the farm bill works well for the farmers, that his approach to farm programs would be even handed since his rural district is not dominated by any single crop.

There will certainly be an effort by budget hawks to cut farm bill spending in the budget process this year. I don't think they will be very successful. House Speaker Dennis Hastert from Illinois owns a farm. He will be on our side. President Bush realizes that his strength is in rural America and he will not forget his friends.

Yes, I'm confident that the new congressional leadership and the President will look upon agriculture with favor.