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Mississippi’s Thad Cochran, the new ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, could be the wild card among the congressional players involved in writing a farm bill that could have a chance of being signed into law this year.
He took the top GOP seat at the start of the 113th Congress after asserting his seniority on the panel to move Pat Roberts of Kansas out of the spot. The change means not only new leadership but also a regional shift in power that is likely to alter the Senate farm bill’s direction.
Cochran is expected to champion Southern growers who opposed the 2012 Senate farm bill written by Roberts and Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. Despite opposition from Cochran and other Southern Republican committee members, the two leaders got the bill through the panel and the Senate floor with bipartisan support.
On nutrition issues, Cochran may surprise those who want to see significant cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a domestic food aid program for low-income people that constitutes more than half of all Agriculture Department and farm bill spending. The lawmaker says federal food programs such as SNAP and the national school lunch program have benefited his state, which ranks among the poorest in the nation.
“I come from a state where, probably per capita, we have higher participation rates in the food stamp program, in the school lunch program and government subsidized meals for this, that and the other,” he told the North American Agricultural Journalists earlier this month.
“It’s part of the responsibility of my representation of our state that I make sure that those interests are reflected in legislation passed by Congress. I’ve never had to apologize for supporting the food stamp program in Mississippi.”
The Senate committee has not said when it will mark up a farm bill, but the House Agriculture Committee has set May 15 for its markup.
The House committee has not released a draft bill, so it remains to be seen how the panel will address updated farm bill savings estimates by the Congressional Budget Office. In June 2012, the CBO scored the House farm bill with a savings of $35 billion over 10 years. In a March update, the savings fell to $26.6 billion. The CBO also reduced the 10-year savings for the Senate bill from $23 billion to $13.1 billion.