What will a projected Republican takeover of the House mean for farm programs?
That’s a question that is being bandied about as political pollsters step up predictions Republicans next Tuesday will win the 228 seats needed to give them control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Not much change is expected in the House Agriculture Committee where Oklahoma Republican Frank Lucas would replace Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson as chairman. Peterson and Lucas worked closely together to pass the 2008 farm bill.
The bigger change could occur in the House itself where numerous candidates are running on promises to reduce federal spending and trim the size of government and on the Senate Agriculture Committee where the current chairman, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, is in the political fight for her life.
“It seems to go without saying that all the candidates who are running on downsizing the government are going to have to look to areas like farm programs to make good on their promises,” said one agricultural economist at a major land-grant university.
“When these new members begin looking at the $5 billion a year in direct payments that are flowing to farmers who are receiving record prices for their crops, the $7 billion flowing to crop insurance companies over the last two years and the $2.6 billion flowing to cotton farmers, those will make inviting targets.”
The Democrats who do survive Republican challenges and return to the House may also start looking at farm programs in a different light, according to some Washington observers.
Farm-state Democrats who have traditionally defended farm programs may be wondering why they bothered, one writer said. Most seem to be getting little credit for their efforts or for a farm economy that seems to have largely missed the effects of the recession.
If Republicans win 228 seats, notes Dan Morgan, a writer for The Fiscal Times, the likely new speaker of the House, John Boehner of Ohio, “is a longtime critic of farm programs and didn’t vote for the 2008 farm bill” either of the times it was passed over President George W. Bush’s veto.
“Former House Majority Leader Richard Armey of Texas, who chairs the national Tea Party organizing group Freedomworks, has also been a relentless critic of government subsidies for agriculture.”
The tenor of the Senate Agriculture Committee is also likely to change if Sen. Lincoln is defeated but Democrats retain control of the Senate. The person next in line to become the chairman is Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who is not known to be a strong supporter of farm programs.
Even if Sen. Lincoln does survive the challenge from Rep. John Boozman, a Republican who represents northwest Arkansas, she, too, may wonder how strongly she wants to continue leading the fight for agricultural subsidies since the years she put into that seem to have been overshadowed by a single vote for the health care reform bill.
In another race of agricultural importance, pollsters are predicting Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, will win his fight for re-election against Democratic challenger Roxanne Conlin and will once again be a thorn in the side of larger, commercial row crop farmers with his payment limit legislation.