Democrats Take Full Leadership In Writing Next Year's Farm Bill

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For the first time since 1994, Democrats control both the House and Senate. Reports indicated that in the last contested Senate race, Democratic Jim Webb received more votes than GOP George Allen. Allen hasn't officially conceded, but all signs point to one sometime today (Thursday).

The change in power brings Democrats back in power before the writing of next year's farm bill. The top ag committee positions now rest in the hands of Midwest senators rather than their Southern counterparts.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., takes over the helm on the House Ag Committee. Three Republican House Ag Committee members lost their runs for reelections and another three didn't run for reelection. On the Democrat side, each committee member won their reelection bids.

Chad Hart, policy analyst at IowaStateUniversity's Center for Agriculture and Rural Development, expects to see a somewhat sizeable shift of who's on the agriculture committee. The question remains whether the replacements will be from traditional crops or filled with representatives from California on behalf of specialty crop growers.

National Corn Growers Association vice president of public policy Jon Doggett said he expects committee announcements early next year so committees can begin to tackle the farm bill.

Peterson doesn't have any experience leading the farm bill crafting. However, on the Senate side Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, will resume his role as the head of the Senate Ag Committee. In the last farm bill he held that position and policy analysts expect him to continue his push for stronger conservation measures and an emphasis on biofuels.

Overall, Hart says the changeover "throws a monkey wrench into the preparation of the farm bill." The new leadership's first order of business will be getting down and writing the farm bill, with little time to prepare. With several new members, committees may decide to hold additional field hearings, again delaying the bulk of the work on the bill.

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