Chambliss plans other board spotATLANTA — Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., signaled Jan. 9 he will leave his leadership post to become the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, but said he still will be a member of the Agriculture Committee and involved in agriculture issues.
By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek
ATLANTA — Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., signaled Jan. 9 he will leave his leadership post to become the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, but said he still will be a member of the Agriculture Committee and involved in agriculture issues.
Speaking to reporters after a welcome speech to the American Farm Bureau Federation annual convention in Atlanta, Chambliss declined to specifically address rumors he will be moving from being ranking member on the Agriculture Committee to the Intelligence Committee.
“There may be some changes that could come this week. . . . Sometimes you don’t have a choice if leadership comes forward and says this is where we need you,” Chambliss said Jan. 9.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan,, who chaired the House Agriculture Committee during the 1996 farm bill, is expect-
ed to become the ranking Republican on the Agriculture Committee.
Chambliss’ move means the South will lose a second agriculture leadership position; Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., had chaired the committee, but lost her bid for re-election.
Roberts is highly respected, but Southern lobbyists have been concerned about the shift in leadership to Northerners. One current committee staffer quipped, “It’s a good thing they’ve started growing cotton in Kansas.”
Change of chairs
Some commodity growers also have expressed concern about the chairmanship of the committee shifting to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., because she is known for advocating Michigan’s fruit and vegetable industry, but Chambliss said he has worked closely with Stabe-
now and she had been supportive of commodity supports and conservation programs, as well as specialty crops.
In his speech to the Farm Bureau, Chambliss noted agriculture is leading the country out of the recession and said he thinks one reason is “the farm bill has put in place the right kind of safety net.”
“Agriculture is as healthy as it has ever been in my lifetime,” Chambliss said, but added that the 2012 farm will be the most difficult because of pressures to cut the federal budget and continuing pressures to provide more support to specialty crops and organic production.
“There are always a few minor differences within the Agriculture Committee. ... I’m confident we’ll work hard in a bipartisan way to (write) the safety net farmers need.” He said the safety net “won’t guarantee a profit,” but would help in times of trouble.
Chambliss also said he thinks hearings on the 2012 farm bill will begin in 2011.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., has said he wants to spend 2011 on oversight and wait until 2012 to take up the farm bill.
Chambliss said he closely will look at whether President Obama’s budget reflects Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s statements that the Agriculture Department already has contributed to budget reduction through a cut in subsidies paid to companies that deliver crop insurance policies.
“I will be interested in seeing what the president’s budget says,” Chambliss said.
The current baseline for agriculture automatically will be reduced because the Obama administration negotiated a reduction in the crop insurance budget, Chambliss noted.
Chambliss described the reduction as $4 billion to $6 billion while Obama administration officials have noted tha the $6 billion cut has been divided between $4 billion for budget savings and $2 billion to be spent on improvements to other USDA programs including crop insurance. The Obama administration does not consider the $2 billion a cut in the USDA budget.
The administration negotiated the cut with the crop insurance companies using authority given by the 2008 farm bill. Government crop insurance costs had skyrocketed because higher commodity prices in recent years led to higher premiums to insure the higher value of crops and higher payments to companies and agents to deliver the policies.
The 2008 farm bill gave the Agriculture Department’s Risk Management Agency the authority to negotiate a new agreement, and the Congressional Budget Office already has assumed a $3.9 billion cost savings.
Chambliss praised the Farm Bureau for its work in opposing the cap-and-trade bill that did not pass the Senate, and for its work on the estate tax. He said he will work “to make sure (the Environmental Protection Agency) and other agencies won’t come onto your farm and look over your shoulder. . . . More and more (federal) agencies are becoming more aggressive when it involves agriculture,” he noted.