House Agriculture Committee Change Up

Conaway poised to take over Republican House Agriculture Committee helm from Lucas.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas looks to step down from him post as chairman at the end of the year, but don’t expect him to exit the Agriculture Committee or the House anytime soon. 

Many had speculated Lucas could throw his hat into the Senate seat left open with the departure of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., but when the announcement came Lucas was in the middle of the fight of his life in pulling the farm bill across the finish line.

“It was not the right time, right place or right set of circumstances,” Lucas said of changing chambers.

He said he prefers the “more fun body” of the 435 members in the House which allows for members to get more engaged.

Lucas won’t be alone in continuing to serve on the Agriculture Committee after stepping down from his chairmanship and he said he will continue to advocate on behalf of farmers during his tenure.

The likely successor is Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, who currently chairs the subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management.

Conaway said he’s been campaigning since last November to Republican leadership members in the House and encouraging them to consider him for the next chair.

Conaway too will have to face one of ongoing challenges of the House Agriculture Committee – a continued growing disconnect between rural and urban constituents as well as a continuous overturn of new members who don’t have knowledge of farm policy.

Conaway expects there will be some carryover of members, but that a new “group of fire-breathing members” will also enter into the picture. “Change is inevitable,” he said.

Conaway was outspoken in support of higher cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the most recently passed farm bill. He said the committee didn’t lay the predicate for SNAP reforms in the last debate and plans to dig into those issues deeper through oversight hearings heading into the next farm bill.

If the SNAP program is spending $80 billion, Congress ought to know where that money’s going “If I’m the chairman, I plan to conduct a vigorous review over the next two years,” he added.

Another potential contender is Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, although he has not been actively campaigning for the post, but says he’s seriously considered it.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said whoever should take the lead as chairman shouldn’t get ahead of themselves and start formulating the next farm bill. Peterson said he made the mistake of very quickly heading out for field hearings shortly after the 2008 one cleared. He said the early hearings last time around were “premature and counterproductive.”

And just because you start early isn’t going to make it any easier, Peterson added.

Peterson said the next farm bill could be “almost impossible” and wagered this one could be around for a while, maybe even 20 years if Congress just passes extensions on the current bill. He said the next two years should focus on farm bill implementation and oversight. “We need to get a couple years of experience with this bill before we figure out how we need to change it in the future,” he said.

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