Ag committee chair says new faces mean new dynamic on Capitol Hill

March 16, 2011

They are new, enthusiastic and changing the environment on Capitol Hill.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas says “do not underestimate the effect” of the large number of freshmen lawmakers on his committee, which will sit down to overhaul U.S. farm subsidies next year. USA/

“This session of Congress is a little different from the ones I’ve participated in previously. A huge number of new members,” Lucas said at a Reuters Global Food and Agriculture Summit. “I’ve got a very enthusiastic bunch of new faces.”

It turns out that half of the House Agriculture Committee is new — 16 of 26 Republicans and 7 of 20 Democrats.

“Now, granted, freshmen Democrats are hard to come by,” he said, not missing a beat in taking a swipe at Democrats who were pounded in the November elections and lost control of the House of Representatives to Republicans.

“So literally 23 of the 46 members of the committee — no committee experience, no Farm Bill experience. It’s a slightly different dynamic as we go through the course of this year and next year,” Lucas said.

He said the large number of newbies will allow a focus on some issues that would perhaps have been more difficult if there were more senior members on the committee, with their own favorite causes. “It gives me an opportunity, with a very enthusiastic bunch of fresh faces, to conduct a lot of very necessary oversight on the committee this year.”

And their enthusiasm may help the committee through the difficult task of deciding which programs to cut or eliminate because there will be less money for agriculture, Lucas said. “We need this enthusiasm for the tough decisions that are coming next year.”

Then there’s the Boehner effect. Almost nothing is off limits when it comes to cutting spending.

“Bottom line is, and this is one other element we need to factor into this next Farm Bill, right along with not having any money, that’s Mr. Boehner’s open process,” Lucas said.

He referred to House Speaker John Boehner’s inclination to allow many amendments to be considered when legislation comes to the House floor. “The committee’s got to work twice as hard to have a product that we can defend on the floor,” Lucas said.

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Capitol dome seen as people eat lunch outside, March 2, 2011)

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