An Early Look at Some Congressional Changes Impacting Agriculture

With the House and Senate remaining under Republican majorities, it is very unclear what matters may be handled in the lame duck session, and which ones will be pushed into the 115th Congress. Some will want to extend the Continuing Resolution from its current expiration on December 9 to presumably March so that President-Elect Trump can have an immediate impact on Federal spending rather than waiting until FY 2018. Child Nutrition reauthorization could well be put off until the next Congress where it is likely that this bill could be more limited and more dramatic with changes that the Obama Administration opposed. And trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership are unlikely to receive further consideration.

In the meantime, it’s worth looking at some changes we can expect on House and Senate Committees dealing with agriculture and nutrition issues:

House:

  • Agriculture Committee – We currently expect that there will be 3 Republican and 3 Democratic vacancies on the committee, and this number is likely to grow as members leave the committee to take seats on other committees. Most notably, Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, the current chair of the Nutrition Subcommittee, is said to want to move to the House Ways and Means Committee.
  • Appropriations Committee – There are 3 Republican and 4 Democratic vacancies. Congressman Hal Rogers is term limited as the Chairman of the full committee, and is likely to be replaced by Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey. Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA) is retiring, so there will be at least one vacancy on the Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration Subcommittee. More importantly, there will be a new ranking Democratic member. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) is next in line, but she is unlikely to give up her position as the ranking member on the Labor-HHS Subcommittee. Sanford Bishop (D-SC) is next in line. But he is also the ranking member on the Military Construction/Veterans Subcommittee. Will he give up that post to take Agriculture? If not, Chellie Pingree (D-ME), a strong proponent of organic agriculture and GMO labeling, will be in a position to take the ranking member spot.
  • Education and the Work Force Committee – This Committee is very important because of its jurisdiction over child nutrition programs – mainly school lunch, school breakfast, and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. If Child Nutrition Reauthorization is not completed in the remaining days of the 114th Congress, then we will see a new chair on this Committee: Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC), a member who is viewed as more conservative that current Chairman John Kline (R-MN), is widely expected to assume the chair. Keep in mind that Congresswoman Foxx was more supportive of turning then entire school lunch and school breakfast programs into a block grant, not just moving towards a pilot in three states. Add to that at least 3 new Republican members and 1 new Democrat, and this could be a very different committee.
  • Energy and Commerce Committee - Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI) is term limited as Chairman, so there will be a contest between Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL) and former Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX). This Committee is important because of its jurisdiction over the Food and Drug Administration, including matters related to the Food Safety Modernization Act and nutrition labeling. There are 3 Republican and 1 Democratic vacancies.

Senate:

  • Agriculture Committee – This committee is likely to have the fewest changes of any committee. But with the focus turning to the Farm Bill in the 115th Congress and Child Nutrition reauthorization still unsettled, this could be a very active committee in the new Congress.
  • Appropriations Committee – There will be a new ranking Democratic member on the full committee with the retirement of Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). Who will take this spot is yet to be determined. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is next in line, followed by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). But Senator Leahy is currently the Ranking Member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, with its expected focus on Supreme Court Justices, and Senator Murray could take the post, while Senator Murray is expected to pursue the Democratic Whip leadership position. She is also currently the Ranking Democratic member on the Senate HELP Committee. There will be one Republican vacancy due to the defeat of Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL).
  • Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee – This committee is important because of its jurisdiction over FDA. As just noted, Senator Murray is currently the ranking Democrat, but may have to vacate this post if she is successful in her quest for the Democratic Whip position. There is one Democratic vacancy on this committee, and now one Republican vacancy due to the defeat of Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL).

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