U.S. Senate Ag Panel Gets New Chair

Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan will become chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee next year, putting her in charge of overhauling U.S. farm policy when spending cuts are likely and her leadership skills are unproven.

Stabenow won expansion of programs for fruit and vegetable growers in the 2008 farm law without alienating growers of row crops – grain, soybeans and cotton – the major recipients of crop subsidies. It will be a hard act to repeat in the Farm Bill due in 2012, farm lobbyists say.

Cuts are almost inevitable this time. There is no funding to continue $9 billion in programs from the 2008 law, including a standby disaster fund, aside from reductions that may result from government- wide belt tightening.

A second-term Democrat, Stabenow, 60, vaulted to the chairmanship following the defeat of previous chairman Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas for re-election. Four Democrats with more seniority than Stabenow decided to keep chairmanships of other panels.

“I am ready to lead the Senate Agriculture Committee in the 112th Congress,” Stabenow said in a statement Nov. 19 after Kent Conrad of North Dakota cleared the way by deciding to remain as Budget Committee chairman. “Not only does agriculture create jobs and feed our families across America, but it is also helping us develop new fuels and energy sources.”

Stabenow focused on public nutrition, land stewardship and fruit and vegetable programs in recent years, leaving some farm groups wondering if she understands mainstream agriculture. Among congressional staff, there were questions if she would be a “foodie” as chairman.

Nancy Foster of U.S. Apple Association, a trade group, said Michigan is an agri – culturally diverse state and Stabenow “understands the needs of agriculture in a very broad sense.”

Stabenow’s office issued a statement of support from Michigan farm leaders, including dairy, pork and agribusiness groups, vouching for her as a longtime friend of farmers.

She voted against a “hard” cap of $250,000 per farmer in annual crop subsidies in 2008. Reformers labelled Stabenow as a flip-flopper because she supported the cap in 2002 and 2005.

But she supported another reform idea in 2008, to bar subsidies to farmers with more than $750,000 in adjusted gross income. That amendment was defeated.

Stabenow, who volunteered in George McGovern’s antiwar presidential campaign in 1972, has a generally liberal voting record in the Senate, according to interest groups.

She was elected to the Senate in 2000, after serving in the state legislature and U.S. House. She is the second woman to chair the Agriculture Committee and also is a member of the tax-writing Finance Committee.

Conrad, a deficit hawk, announced his decision to retain the Budget Committee chairmanship on a Fargo, North Dakota, radio station. He will be a senior Democrat on Agriculture, which he described as “the perfect position” to play a role on the 2012 Farm Bill.

“The biggest challenge facing the country, other than the ongoing terrorist threat, is really the debt threat,” Conrad said on KFGO-AM.

———

Notonlydoes agriculturecreatejobs

andfeedourfamilies acrossAmerica,but itisalsohelpingus

developnewfuels andenergysources.”

– debbie stabenow

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