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Published November 09, 2010, 07:38 AM

Election shakes up leadership on House, Senate ag committees

WASHINGTON — The 2010 congressional elections will make dramatic changes in the leadership and membership of the House and Senate agriculture committees and probably will delay consideration of the 2012 farm bill.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — The 2010 congressional elections will make dramatic changes in the leadership and membership of the House and Senate agriculture committees and probably will delay consideration of the 2012 farm bill.

The Republican takeover of the House will transfer the chairmanship of the House Agriculture Committee from Collin Peterson, D-Minn., to Frank Lucas, R-Okla., while the defeat of Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., probably will transfer the chairmanship of that committee to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

The other players

Lucas issued a statement: “After serving on the House Agriculture Committee for 16 years, the last two as ranking member, and through the reauthorization of three major farm bills, I hope in the new Republican majority of the next Congress, I will have the chance to lead the committee as we focus on the needs of agriculture and rural America.”

During the campaign season, Lucas frequently has criticized the Environmental Protection Agency’s actions during the Obama administration, but he rarely has been in open conflict with Peterson over agriculture policy.

While Peterson has encouraged House members and farmers to think about using the $5 billion in direct payments that farmers get for other purposes, Lucas has defended them.

Peterson said in an interview Nov. 3 that he would not fight sentiment to keep the direct payments program. But Peterson also said that the Tea Party movement’s push to control the budget also would mean that it would be difficult to start new programs in the farm bill and to continue some programs that already are in existence.

Lincoln has defended big cotton and rice subsidies, but if Stabenow becomes chairman, she likely will place priority on fruits and vegetables, sugar beets and the animal agriculture industries that are more important to Washington state than row crop production.

Stabenow said in a statement from her office in Detroit that she was “saddened” by Lincoln’s loss, but noted that she has long taken an interest in agriculture and said she is “ready once again to advocate for and strengthen this critical part of our economy for Michigan and our country. As Michigan’s second largest industry, agriculture is critical to our economy and employs thousands of people. Michigan is second only to California in our agricultural diversity including our leadership in the production of many fruits and vegetables. With over 19.3 million acres of forest land, we are also leaders in forest products and practices. American agriculture not only creates jobs and feeds our families, but it also brings innovation to the development of new fuels and energy sources.”

Congress coming back

Meanwhile, Congress is scheduled to return to Washington Nov. 15 for a lame duck session that could see action on reauthorization of child nutrition programs, a food safety bill and an extension of tax credits and a protective tariff for ethanol.

Peterson said in light of the elections, he does not think Congress should pass the Senate child nutrition bill because it includes an increase in spending for the school lunch program using budget authority from a reduction in food stamp benefits.

Peterson said he thinks the current programs should be extended, but added that he would support provisions that would not allow school lunches or the food stamp program to buy foods that contain “empty calories.”

The child nutrition program budget increase would allow the purchase of more fruits and vegetables, whole grain foods and low-fat dairy and meat products.

Peterson also said the ethanol tax credits and protective tariff should be extended in the lame duck session so they do not expire at the end of the year. He said he would not vote for any tax extenders bill that does not include those provisions.

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