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Congressional turnover may have broad impact on 2007 farm bill

The “tidal wave” of voter sentiment that swept away Republican control of Congress could “turn negotiations on their head” in developing a new farm bill next year, says Jay Vroom.

“This administration, and all of us who have issues on Capitol Hill, will be faced with a new set of leaders — Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer, Ted Kennedy, and Tom Harkin,” the president of CropLife America said at the annual meeting of the Southern Crop Production Association.

“In the rankings for liberal Democrats, Tom Harkin, who will chair the Senate Agriculture Committee, is third only behind Boxer and Kennedy, which gives you an idea of the potential impact on policy that we face.

Harkin, from Iowa, has been in Congress since 1974 and currently serves as ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee.

“There are a lot of big smiles on the faces of those who represent Midwest agriculture and grain farmers.”

Vroom, whose organization represents agricultural chemical manufacturers, formulators, distributors, and associate members, says changes in key congressional posts will have an impact on the industry and agriculture.

“Unfortunately for us, (Democrats) were big winners in California; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Henry Waxman are both very liberal.

“Michigan was also a big winner. John Dingell will head the Energy and Commerce Committee. Rep. John Conyers Jr. will also be chairing a committee and Michigan’s senators will have increased seniority. A bright spot is Debbie Stabenow, who was re-elected to the Senate from Michigan and is a very good friend of agriculture.”

The loss of Rep. Tom Delay, R-Texas, earlier this year “was exacerbated” in the elections by the loss of several key congressional chairs from Texas, Vroom says, including Joe Barton, Energy and Commerce Committee.”

Ohio lost several key players, he says, and Louisiana had “a major loss” with Jim McCrery, who has played a key role in shaping tax policy and was poised to move forward on the Ways and Means Committee, but will now be ranking minority member.

The defeat of Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., was “a major blow to our agenda,” Vroom says. “He, in many ways, steered final House action on the Endangered Species Act, and now the environmentalists are dancing on his political grave. They believe they now have the upper hand with all of production agriculture, and that’s really scary going into the 2007 farm bill debate.”

Also defeated was Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana, “a big blow, because he’s an old hand at standing up for what’s right with agriculture. He also chaired the appropriations subcommittee that funded the EPA each year, and was an important friend in that position, as was Rep. Charles Taylor of North Carolina, who chaired the House appropriations subcommittee that funded the EPA.”

A bright spot, Vroom says, is that the Blue Dog Democrats — a fiscally conservative group — “will end up stronger in the next Congress. Many of them are good friends of ours. The 44 of them will control 19 percent of the House Democratic Caucus. With the narrow margin that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has, she can’t afford to ignore them.”

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