Voters in November retired two Senate Agriculture Committee members and three from the House Agriculture Committee, dispatched several other senior Republicans and handed control of Congress to Democrats for the first time in a dozen years.
Despite the loss of several friends of agriculture, farm and food industry lobbyists expect that the outlook for the 2007 farm bill did not change significantly because agriculture committees follow a largely bipartisan approach.
The American Farm Bureau Federation read the results to offer “renewed opportunities” for renewable fuel initiatives – potentially encouraging more biofuel production – and disaster aid and immigration reform.
But the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association expressed concern that many of the new Democrats “are strongly supported by anti-agriculture activist groups and environmentalists.”
Regardless of party control, the United Egg Producers also worries about more lobbying efforts from “animal rights” extremists such as the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS). “We’re going to watch a lot of spurious stuff that comes up,” said UEP lobbyist Howard Magwire, including legislation to impose non-scientific animal welfare requirements on USDA’s school lunch program.
The most notable Republican survivor of the election, Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., has proposed a bill to require minimum cage sizes for laying hens and “humane euthanasia” for spent fowl for the eggs bought by federal agencies.
NCBA also despaired that it had lost its best chance to repeal the estate tax and to exempt normal agricultural waste material from environmental liability laws.
If the election was what President Bush called “a thumping” for the GOP, some farm and agribusiness lobby groups also lost. The “farm bloc” gave more than $2.7 million in campaign contributions to six Republican candidates who lost Senate races, less than $200,000 to the Democrats who beat them.
Farm lobbyists agree that their biggest loss was Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., the chair of the House Resources Committee and vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee who led efforts to amend the Endangered Species Act.
Although committee party ratios and subcommittee alignment aren’t formal until the new 110th Congress convenes in January, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, will return to chair the Senate committee that he headed for several months in 2002 and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., is to chair the House committee.
“We have great working relations with Peterson and Harkin,” said UEP’s Magwire. Both are familiar with egg industry issues. Iowa is the leading egg-producing state in the nation and Peterson’s is the ninth-largest congressional district in egg production.
Three Senate committee vacancies will go to newly-elected Democrats Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Amy Klobuchar of Missouri. New House committee Democrats have not been chosen but Minnesota’s Tim Walz made clear he wants an appointment.
As a congressman, Brown introduced legislation that would prohibit sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in poultry.
At least a third of the 30 incoming House Democrats are expected to join the centrist Blue Dog coalition. Its political action committee contributed to 17 of the 21 House Agriculture Committee Democrats and to challengers Brad Ellsworth and Baron Hill in Indiana and Heath Shuler in North Carolina. “Nothing of substance will pass without a majority of the Blue Dogs,” said former Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Texas, one of its founders. Because their caucus of fiscal conservatives is heavily rural, some feel that they can broker a better deal for the farm bill in the budget.