Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., asserted his seniority today and was selected to take over as ranking GOP member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
The current ranking member, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told Agri-Pulse that Sen. Cochran “has his full support” and that “seniority is a well-respected and historic privilege in the U.S. Senate.”
Cochran received the unanimous support of Republican committee members. Next, the full Senate Republican Conference must approve the selection in the coming weeks.
For weeks, rumors have circulated that Cochran would challenge Roberts for the top slot, forcing a potential vote in committee. If Roberts won that vote, as expected, Cochran could take the challenge to the full GOP caucus where he would likely prevail.
Cochran said, in a statement, that he was pleased with the opportunity to serve as ranking member.
“I will use the experiences I’ve gained in serving on the committee since 1979 to help quickly advance a new farm bill that will meet the needs of our country’s farmers, small businesses, and those who rely on the nutrition programs under the committee’s jurisdiction,” Cochran said. “I look forward to working with [Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.]”
Cochran previously served as committee chairman from 2003 to 2005. He plans to continue to serve on the Senate Rules Committee.
Roberts said he will “continue to remain as a strong champion for agriculture” and will retain his Senate Finance Committee seat. “As a senior member of this committee, I am able to affect trade policy, especially ag trade, tax reform, and rural health care.”
Roberts said this action also “allows me to assert my seniority as the ranking member of the Rules Committee. This committee will become increasingly important as I expect to play a very vigorous role in defense of minority rights, which are under attack by the Democrat Majority Leader, as well as top line issues like campaign finance reform and federal election law.”
“My message to Kansas farmers and ranchers is that I will continue to be your voice and your champion at every turn,” Roberts emphasized.
Kansans had also enjoyed having a member on the House Agriculture Committee; however, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, recently removed Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., from that post.
Asked whether or not the dynamics of writing a new farm bill will change with Cochran leading GOP members on the committee, Roberts insisted he will still have leverage and he cited the recent decision to extend the current farm bill as an example. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Stabenow, along with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas and Ranking Democrat Collin Peterson had proposed a farm bill extension package last weekend that included disaster assistance, dairy reforms and a reduction in direct payments to pay for the changes.
“You had three people who wanted to move that kind of bill and one who didn’t,” Roberts said of his view on the modified extension package.
Ultimately, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who brokered the final tax and extension package with Vice President Joe Biden, cited concerns about raising a budget point of order and went with a straight farm bill extension instead – ignoring the committee chairmen’s wishes.
But Roberts, who has adamantly opposed some of the target price provisions proposed in the House Agriculture Committee’s version of the 2012 farm bill, will now be replaced by a southerner who is much more likely to go along with Chairman Lucas and Ranking member Collin Peterson on the commodity title.
Farm organizations were just starting to react to the change in GOP leadership on the committee – even though it had been widely rumored for weeks.
“The Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau thanks Senator Pat Roberts for his outstanding service as ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee in the 112th Congress and looks forward to working with Senator Thad Cochran to preserve and protect crop insurance as he assumes the post in this new Congress,” noted Michael Torrey, Executive Vice President, Michael Torrey Associates.