Farm Bill- Debbie Stabenow to Chair Senate Ag Committee
Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) indicated in a news release on Friday that, after consulting constituents across North Dakota and colleagues in the U.S. Senate, he will retain his leadership position as Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and stay as a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

After many conversations with constituents, ag leaders, and Senate colleagues, it is clear that the people of North Dakota are best served with me remaining the Chairman of the Budget Committee, Senator Conrad said. As Chairman of the Budget Committee and a senior member of the Agriculture Committee, the people of North Dakota will be best represented in negotiations on the next Farm Bill, legislation to reduce our dependence on foreign energy, and renewed efforts to put our nation’s fiscal house in order.

Michael O’Brien reported on Friday at The Hills Briefing Room Blog that, Republicans who are set to take control of the House in January have made clear they intend to seek spending cuts and possible entitlement reforms as a way to slash the deficit. Conrad’s chairmanship of the Senate’s budget panel would make him the key point of contact between Senate Democrats and the House GOP in the looming budget battles.

Following Sen. Conrad’s announcement, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) indicated in a statement on Friday that, I am ready to lead the Senate Agriculture Committee in the 112th Congress. Agriculture is critical to Michigan’s economy, employing a quarter of our workforce. Not only does agriculture create jobs and feed our families across America, but it is also helping us develop new fuels and energy sources.

I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as we begin writing a new farm bill that once again recognizes the importance of America’s agricultural economy and rural communities.

Politico writers Scott Wong and Robin Bravender pointed out on Friday that, this will be the third change atop the Agriculture Committee in less than two years. [Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.)], who lost her reelection bid Republican Rep. John Boozman, took over the panel in 2009, after then-Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) moved to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Reuter’s news reported on Friday that, 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 stand-by disaster fund, aside from reductions that may result from government-wide belt-tightening.

Friday’s article added that, she voted against a hard cap of $250,000 per farmer in annual crop subsidies in 2008. Reformers labeled 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.
The Reuters article explained that, 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.

Meanwhile, Nathan Hurst reported on Saturday at The Detroit News Online that, The Natural State’s [Arkansas] loss is Michigan’s gain. Michigan’s agriculture sector responsible for about $71.3 billion of economic activity will be front and center as Stabenow leads the committee in crafting the next farm bill, slated to take effect in 2012. I’m in a position to really tell the Michigan story, Stabenow told The News. The farm bill is the largest investment we make; it’s very much about jobs

Michigan agribusiness groups said Stabenow’s new position was a boon for the states farmers. U.S. farm policy has far-reaching implications for Michigan farmers, Wayne Wood, president of the Michigan Farm Bureau, said in a statement. Having Sen. Stabenow’s leadership on the Senate Agriculture Committee is an asset to Michigan agriculture.

In more detailed biographical background on the new Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman, the 2010 edition of The Almanac of American Politics indicated that, Michigan’s junior senator is Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat elected in 2000. Stabenow grew up in the small Outstate town of Clare, where her father was an Oldsmobile dealer and her mother was a nurse. She went to Michigan State University, where she got a masters degree in social work.

She was elected to the state House in 1978 at age 28 and was elected to the state Senate in 1990, and she served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1996-2000.

The Almanac explained that, In the majority, Stabenow was a leading foe of President Bush’s international ltrade agenda, insisting on protections for American workers who lose their jobs to foreign competition; the Almanac added that, With other rust-belt Democrats, she successfully fought Senate action on climate change legislation, which was opposed by heavy industries.

Some policy implications of the change in leadership on the Senate Ag Committee have already been highlighted.

Alexander Bolton reported on Friday at The Hill Online that, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) does not expect the White House to fulfill its promise to farmers in her home state in the wake of her failed bid for a third term.