As expected, Democrats picked up enough seats in the midterm elections to gain control of the House of Representative but lost seats to Republicans in the Senate, also as expected.
As the fog began to clear Wednesday morning, estimates put 230 House seats in the Democrats' control and 205 on the Republican side of the aisle.
Republicans, with some races still undecided, expected to pick up two or three Senate seats.
For farmers and ranchers, the flip in the House comes with new concerns with passing a farm bill, already past the 2014 law’s Sept. 30 expiration date.
“We need to get a farm bill passed before the new Congress is seated,” says Abbott Myers, Dundee, Miss., rice and soybean farmer and Mississippi Land Bank chairman. “They have a limited number of days to complete it, and they have a lot going on.”
Myers fears if the farm bill is delayed until the new Congress is seated, funding for agriculture will be cut.
“I am disappointed Republicans lost the house,” Myers added. “I was hoping they would pull it out. They did increase numbers in the Senate, and they won a lot of governorships.”
Shawn Holladay, Lubbock, Texas, cotton farmer and chairman of the American Cotton Producers (ACP) of the National Cotton Council (NCC), says election results were not unexpected. “But it was more of a ripple than a wave.”
Holladay adds that split power in government is not necessarily a bad thing. “The country needs a split in power for the most part, but it will be a little more difficult to get some things done.”
The change in committee chairmanships, he says, will be a critical issue. “We will lose Conaway (Mike Conaway, R-Texas) as House ag chairman,” he says.
He adds that losing chairs in other committees, Appropriations and Ways and Means, for instance, also will affect agriculture. He also notes that the “Blue Dog Democrats,” fiscally conservative members, “no longer exist.”
He was not surprised at the outcome. “I had no doubt in my mind that the House was going Democratic.”
Lame duck session
He agrees with Myers that the farm bill will be a pressing issue in the lame duck session, but he believes Congress will pass it.
“I expect and hope we will get the farm bill through in lame duck,” Holladay says. “No one, including Congress, wants to renegotiate this bill.”
He says the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps) has garnered most of the press, but it’s only one of several points of contention between House and Senate versions of a farm bill.
“We see a real divide between the House and the Senate on the Title 1 program.”
See also: ASA: It's time to pass a new farm bill
Myers says time may be the deciding factor with “only 16 working days left in this session. If we don’t get a working bill passed before the new Congress, the budget office will rate it again and I am afraid they will cut funds for ag.”
He adds that many of the new members come from cities and have little understanding of agriculture. “Ag is the last thing on their minds.
“It’s not just the ag committee” changes that will affect agriculture, he says. “It’s the whole Congress. Agriculture is losing more and more representation. People away from the farm do not understand ag. Congress is ill-informed.”
Myers says farm organizations face the daunting task of “every two years having new education we have to do. And our Land Grant PAC supports Democrats and Republicans, the ones favorable to agriculture.”
Next Ag Chairman
Holladay says he’s heard nothing to suggest that anyone other than Collin Peterson, D-Minn., currently Ranking Member, House Agriculture Committee, will be the new chairman.
“As far as I know, Rep. Peterson is in line for the ag chairmanship. I don’t foresee any problem dealing with Ranking Member Peterson,” who Holladay describes as something of a “Blue Dog Democrat.”
Holladay says he has reason to be optimistic about passage of a farm bill in the next few weeks.
“I talked to Chairman Conaway day before yesterday, and I think they are pretty close to working out the farm bill.”
He adds that if Conaway can “roll back everything he wants in SNAP to a position of getting some relief on waivers, he will feel like the program will be a success.” Those waivers relate to job requirements for SNAP qualifications.
With the bill hanging in the balance, though, Holladay expresses relief that cotton is back in the program.
“Thank God seed cotton is already in the program,” he says. “Without that, cotton would be in awful shape. A lot of work went into that process.”
He says the narrow victory Ted Cruz pulled out in his Senate race with newcomer Beto O’Rourk could bode well for agriculture. “The rural vote was crucial to Cruz’s win,” he said. “Rural counties elected him, so he should be receptive to what we have to say.”
Holladay says the world does not end with a Democrat takeover of the House, although agriculture will see “immediate changes in how to get things done. Chairmanships are a big deal. But we have a lot of friends in the Democrat Party, too. This is a sign of the times: the pendulum swings hard one way; it swings just as hard back the other.
“I am always afraid of the fringes on either side.”