Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee since 1979 and chair of the committee in 2003-2005, this week exercised his right of seniority and opted to take the ranking minority slot on the Senate ag panel.
In a related announcement, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced there will be nine GOP members of the ag committee, one less than in the last Congress. In response to Cochran’s decision, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) said Jan. 3 in a formal statement he will step aside as ranking member of the committee, pledging Cochran “my full support, and I will move his nomination when I bring the committee together for a vote…I expect it to be unanimous.”
Late Jan. 3, the full Republican side of the committee endorsed Cochran. The senior Mississippi Senator lost his ranking spot on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee because he was term-limited under Senate rules.
“Seniority is a well-respected and historic privilege in the U.S. Senate, and Sen. Cochran has my full support.” Roberts said in a statement, “Rest assured I will remain a strong and vocal champion for agriculture as a senior member of the committee. I will retain my Finance Committee seat and as a senior member of this committee, I am able to affect trade policy, especially ag trade, tax reform and rural health care. No matter whether I hold the gavel, or whether I am the ranking member or whether I am a senior member, agriculture has always been a top priority of my efforts in public service. Nothing will change that.”
Both Cochran and Robert will remain members of the Senate Rules Committee, with Roberts become ranking member of that panel. In his statement, Roberts pledged his support to help pass a five-year farm bill, action that was remarkably cooperative when Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Roberts went to work this year to fashion a bill eventually passed by the full Senate by a wide margin.
That bill, however, angered southern crop producers who argue it favors large Midwest corn and soybean farmers, and Cochran’s ascension to ranking member – along with his alliance with former committee chair Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) – means Stabenow will have to return to the drawing board, at least on the commodity title, when the committee takes up the Farm Bill again this month.
The House Agriculture Committee-passed Farm Bill includes changes to the commodity title that include marketing loans and deficiency payments, a scheme much more friendly to southern producers and one Cochran would likely endorse.