Lincoln may shift Ag Committee focus

Sep 18, 2009
by WLJ

Lincoln may shift Ag Committee focus

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-AR, has stepped in to the leadership role for the Senate Agriculture Committee after former Chairman Tom Harkin, D-IA, accepted the chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, a post left empty after Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts died two weeks ago.

"Of course, agriculture will always be a key interest to my home state of Iowa, so I intend to remain a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, a committee I have been on since I first joined the Senate in 1985," Harkin said in a statement. He chaired the committee through both the 2002 and 2007 farm bills. Lincoln, whose state relies heavily on cotton and rice subsidies, has been a member of the committee since she was elected in 1998. Lincoln is highly critical of proposed climate change legislation and a fierce defender of U.S. agriculture interests in foreign trade negotiations.

Many in the industry believe that Lincoln may take a different course on key topics such as climate change legislation and crop subsidies than during Harkin’s tenure as committee chairman. Several trade groups were encouraged by Lincoln’s promotion, including American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman who indicated that, "Sen. Lincoln has been a longtime friend of Farm Bureau. She received the Golden Plow Award in 2008, the highest honor the American Farm Bureau Federation presents to members of Congress, for her steadfast support of America’s farmers and ranchers. We look forward to continue to work with Sen. Lincoln as chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee and we know she will continue to champion the interests of Farm Bureau families in her new assignment.

"Sen. Lincoln has represented the interests of agriculture and rural America since her election to the House of Representatives as a moderate Democrat in 1992 and her election to the Senate in 1998. She has deep ties to farming and hails from a seventh-generation Arkansas farm family. We know she will continue to be a strong voice for our industry and will continue as a consistent leader on key Farm Bureau issues such as those that relate to farm policy, the environment, and estate tax reform."

Already last week, Lincoln signaled a departure from the administration on the role agriculture should play in any future climate change regulations. She said last Tuesday that Democrats will have a difficult time passing legislation as a result of her opposition to what she called a "deeply-flawed" cap-and-trade package.

Last week during a trip to the capitol by members and officers of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, she explained to a round of applause from cattlemen that she remains opposed to the bill as it is written.

"It’s a deeply-flawed bill and I’m not going to support it," she said. "As chairman of the Agriculture Committee, I have a great opportunity to weigh in on this issue."

The bill, which mandates a sharp reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the next 40 years, exempts direct ag industry emissions, but would still cause input cost increases due to price increases from products like fertilizer. Lincoln explained that such an impact has the effect of picking winners and losers in several industries, a result which should not be the result of legislation, she said. The result of the current bill will take land out of production, resulting in a decline in the U.S.’ ability to produce food.

"What’s the impact going to be on our consumers in terms of the increased price of food, not only in the U.S., but globally as well?" she said.

Instead, Lincoln hopes to shift the focus of the bill toward cleaning up the environment, creating new jobs, and reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil without pitting sectors of the agriculture industry or parts of the country against each other.

"That cap-and-trade bill in the House didn’t do all of those," Lincoln said.

The bill puts a disproportionate share of the economic burden on family businesses in states like Arkansas, and " I think it puts a disproportionate share of the burden on rural America," she said.

Instead of passing a large cap-and-trade bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Lincoln instead said that Congress should focus on developing a new, stand-alone energy bill which would accomplish many of her initiatives along with promoting renewable energy by creating tax incentives, without the unintended consequences she outlined for cattle producers last week.

"That would get us along the way to something we can do more immediately," Lincoln said. — John Robinson, WLJ Editor