Conaway Positioned to Stay at Top Spot on House Agriculture

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By Casey Wooten

Nov. 9 — House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) breezed to victory in his re-election bid, laying the groundwork for another two years of his chairmanship on the panel.

Conaway received about 90 percent of the vote in Texas’s 11th district, which covers a large swath of the mid-western portion of the state and is one of the most solidly Republican districts in the nation.

The now-seven-term congressman is likely to retain his top spot on the committee, which is set to begin negotiations and hearings on the 2018 farm bill in the coming months. It will be Conaway’s first farm bill as chairman of the committee since taking the helm in 2015.

His Democratic counterpart, ranking member Collin Peterson (Minn.) also won re-election and is positioned to retain his spot as well.

Full Work Schedule.

With Conaway remaining at the helm, the broad direction of the committee will largely remain unchanged. Lawmakers will likely begin ramping up talks over the 2018 farm bill soon. And the first order of business will be hearings examining how the 2014 bill has performed, Tyson Redpath, a lobbyist for the Arlington, Va.-based Russell Group, which handles agriculture issues, told Bloomberg BNA.

That is likely to include programs under Title I, the section of the 2014 farm bill devoted to providing commodity price and income aid to farmers.

“Obviously close examination of Title I and the commodity programs, and because of the construction of some of those programs and their interoperability of crop insurance, I think some of that has to be evaluated,” he said.

Redpath said that with wheat, corn and soybean prices declining for the past few years, the farm aid system is under a stress test and lawmakers will see how well those programs have performed under pressure. That could inform how they craft the next farm bill, he said.

Peterson has pushed to move up the schedule on the 2018 farm bill to aid farmers hit by declining crop prices. Conaway hasn’t given any specific support for pushing through a farm bill on an advanced schedule, but told an Amarillo, Texas news outlet in August that he remains “committed” to the farm bill and to overhauling programs he believes fail to deliver aid to struggling farmers.

Subcommittee Stability.

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), chairman of the Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research subcommittee won re-election and is likely to retain his position. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), the subcommittee’s ranking member, won re-election as well.

Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) is set to retain his position as chairman of the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management subcommittee after voters re-elected him. Chairmanship of that panel—which has oversight of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission—was held by Conaway before he assumed leadership of the full panel. Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), the subcommittee’s ranking member, won his seat and is positioned to resume his spot on the panel.

Rep. David Rouzer (R-N.C.), chairman of the Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee, is poised to keep his position after being re-elected. Rouzer took his spot on the Agriculture Committee after Rep. Mike McIntyre (D) retired from representing North Carolina’s 7th District.

Several retirements on the committee could open up the way for Rep.-elect Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), who defeated Rep. Tim Huelskamp in Kansas’s 1st district Republican primary, to take a seat on the committee. Huelskamp lost the support of many farmers after he opposed the 2014 farm bill. Then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) ousted Huelskamp from the Agriculture Committee in retaliation, marking the first time in nearly a century that a Kansan didn’t sit on the panel.

Both Huelskamp and Marshall ran their primary campaigns on a pledge to regain a seat on the panel for Kansas’s 1st district, known as the Big First.

Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas), one of the most senior Republicans on the panel, is retiring, along with Reps. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.), Dan Benishek (R-Mich.) and Gwen Graham (D-Fla.).

Moving to fill Neugebauer’s seat is Rep.-elect Jodey Arrington (R), who won Texas’s reliably Republican 19th congressional district. Arrington has said he intends to work with Conaway and the Agriculture Committee as a whole to include cotton farmers in any aid packages in the upcoming farm bill. It’s unclear whether he will gain a seat on the panel, however.

Committee member Brad Ashford (D-Neb.) lost his House seat to his Republican challenger, Don Bacon. Also, committee member Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) is not returning to Congress next year. She lost her bid to oust John McCain (R) from his Arizona Senate seat.

To contact the reporter on this story: Casey Wooten in Washington at cwooten@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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