A combined 86 years of experience will not be on the House Agriculture Committee heading into the next Congress as veterans leave and those next in line look to keep bipartisanship at the center of positive actions for rural America.
In action Thursday, the House Democratic Caucus approved Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., to serve as the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., will serve as the ranking member of the Agriculture Committee after being selected by the Republican Steering Committee.
The current chairman, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., lost his reelection bid. He says both are “very capable leaders.” Peterson, a 30-year veteran of the committee, says Scott already said he will listen to his counsel and assumes GT will as well. “I have no doubt that they’re going to do a good job,” Peterson says.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who is the only top agricultural committee member returning that worked on the 2018 Farm Bill, congratulated both of the leaders. “Both of them have been champions for rural America, and I know they will continue that great work as chairman and ranking member. I look forward to partnering with them to combat the COVID-19 crisis, address inequities in our food system, and tackle the climate crisis,” Stabenow said.
After being confirmed, Scott said in a statement that he will use this critical opportunity to represent the values of the entire Democratic caucus and “advance our priorities for trade, disaster aid, climate change, sustainable agriculture, SNAP, crop insurance, small family farms, specialty crops and rural broadband. The fault lines dividing our rural and urban communities are running deep, and climate change is now threatening our nation’s food supply. As chairman, I will lead the fight to rise up and meet these challenges.”
For almost two decades Scott has worked on behalf of farmers and ranchers and been an active member of the committee since first elected to the House in 2002. “His legislative experience, a childhood working on his grandparents’ farm, and being the first African American chosen to lead the committee all give him a unique perspective needed to tackle the challenges facing rural America,” says American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall.
Duvall notes that the 117th Congress will require cooperation on many top of mind issues for agriculture including a fair solution on the farm labor shortage, creating partnerships and build on strides in climate-smart practices and bridging the digital divide on the nation’s broadband.
The House Agriculture Committee has a history of strong bipartisanship and working across party lines. It’s no surprise that Scott is a longtime member of the Blue Dog Coalition – a caucus of House members who consider themselves fiscally-responsible Democrats and with a pragmatic approach to work across party lines.
Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz., the Blue Dog co-chair for policy, says, “Rep. Scott knows that in order for the next economic recovery to be successful, it must run through our rural communities. A strong rural economy means a strong American economy. Rural Americans are proud of their tight-knit communities, their hard work, and their way of life. They provide us with the material to make the clothes on our backs and produce the food that’s on our tables. They’re looking for a level playing field—a fair shot to work their way up the ladder, create prosperity in their communities, and participate in the country’s economic growth. Rural America has a champion in Rep. Scott, who has a deep understanding of what it takes to strengthen our rural communities, and we look forward to working with him to make that happen.”
The North American Meat Institute called Scott a “strong ally of animal agriculture” and the National Corn Growers Association says Scott has “demonstrated strong support for the policies important to corn farmers.”
National Farmers Union (NFU) President Rob Larew says, “Since taking office 18 years ago, Representative Scott has served continuously on the House Agriculture Committee, where he has garnered a reputation for his bipartisanship. In his previous role as ranking democrat of the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee and in his current position of chairman of the Commodity Exchanges, Energy and Credit subcommittee, he has gained valuable expertise that will serve him well when he takes the reins from current Chairman Collin Peterson.”
Thompson brings experience as well
The current House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Michael Conaway, R-Texas, will pass the torch to Thompson who has served as his deputy on the committee for the past six years. “He was instrumental in crafting the 2018 Farm Bill, and I know he’ll continue to bring his strong work ethic and steadfast commitment to America’s farmers and ranchers to this new role,” Conaway says.
NFU’s Larew says Thompson’s skill set complements that of Scott. During his 12-year-long tenure in the House of Representatives, he has served as chairman of the subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry, and currently serves as the ranking member of the subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations. “In addition to his political experience, Representative Thompson has personal connections to agriculture, having come from a long line of dairy farmers,” Larew says.
Jim Mulhern, National Milk Producers Federation president and CEO, praised Thompson who has been a “vocal and effective advocate for the needs of dairy farmers in Pennsylvania and throughout the country.” Mulhern adds, “He also has a keen understanding of the need to build a vibrant rural economy to sustain a safe, abundant and affordable food supply to nourish our country and our planet.”
Thompson’s “bipartisan record of achievement speaks for itself,” Mulhern adds.
In an exclusive interview with American Agriculturalist Editor Chris Torres, Thompson shares that he intends to continue his work across the aisle.
“With very few exceptions, every bill I introduce is bipartisan. I reach across the aisle. That’s my style with committee work as well,” he says.
Torres reports that Thompson says the committee will be focused on passing mandatory livestock price reporting legislation, working to expand domestic and foreign markets, passing bills to make agriculture more “resilient” in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and expanding rural broadband.
In a special fireside-like chat between Peterson, Conaway, former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas and Sen. Pat Roberts, the agricultural titans reminisced about their time on the committee. Check out the discussion in the video below. During the discussion, Peterson noted the Agriculture Committee continues to face the challenge of educating the growing number of urban members who lack understand of rural issues.
“When you’re the chairman, your priorities take a backseat to having to do whatever you have to do to get a bill done,” Peterson recalls. He adds, the recent surge in ad-hoc payments is not going to make it any easier in reaching agreements ahead. “It’s not easy to do. It’s going to get harder,” Peterson says of agreeing on farm policy support.