Two senior Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee declared their interest Thursday in leading the panel after Chairman Collin C. Peterson lost his reelection bid.
Subcommittee chairmen David Scott of Georgia and Jim Costa of California are vying for the chairman’s gavel. A third expected contender, Ohio Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, had not announced her plans as of Thursday. Their candidacies depend on Democrats keeping the majority, as expected, as race winners continue to be called.
The Senate Agriculture Committee will also be getting a new chairperson regardless of which party is in the majority because Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas is retiring at the end of this Congress.
Scott is chairman of the Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy and Credit, while Costa is chairman of the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture.
Scott’s bid would give the House Agriculture Committee its first African American chairman if he succeeds.
Scott issued a statement highlighting his work on the committee since 2003 and his family’s roots in agriculture in a segregated South. He said there is a need to ensure “that racial justice and economic equality is brought forth in our farming industry.”
"The heavy weight of the virus has fallen on these struggling communities, as access to reliable broadband, education, childcare, and medicine are just out of reach,” Scott said. “If elected, I would approach my role as the first African American to chair the Agriculture Committee, and the first African American from Georgia to chair any Committee, with a principled focus on addressing inequities in Agriculture and advancing racial progress for all.”
Costa, in a letter to colleagues, stressed that he is a third-generation farmer whose 16 years on the committee give him insight into the challenges facing farmers and the agriculture industry.
"I understand what farmers encounter, from the impacts of climate change and market instability to the need to conserve limited natural resources and preserve our ability to grow the food we need to feed our communities, country and the world,” Costa said.
He cited the disappointing Nov. 3 congressional election results for Democrats and said that the Agriculture Committee could serve as the bridge between rural and urban-suburban communities.
“Our message of economic prosperity, lower health care costs and a better tomorrow is simply not resonating with large swaths of the country,” Costa wrote. “The Agriculture Committee can, and should be, better utilized as the link to rural America and the showcase of what our Caucus stands for.”
Costa and Scott noted that the committee’s responsibilities range from creating financial safety nets for farmers to providing a nutrition safety net for low-income families through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Women, Infants and Children program.
The lawmakers also said COVID-19 and President Donald Trump’s trade policies have taken a toll on the rural economy.
“Rebuilding our economy must be inclusive and equitable, incorporating job growth and revitalization to strengthen our nation as a whole,” Scott said.
Costa said $23 billion in ad hoc trade payments from the Trump administration to farmers helped them weather some of the effects of retaliatory tariffs imposed by trading partners in response to U.S. tariffs on imported steel and aluminum and Chinese goods
However, the California lawmaker said the federal aid is not good for the longer term.
“A farm economy propped up by payments from the government is not a healthy one and we must quickly get to work to right this ship,” Costa said.
In his statement, Scott signaled he knows the regional interests of his colleagues with a nod to Midwest farmers by calling for a shift away from fossil fuels to more corn-based ethanol and other biofuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He said the biofuels industry is a job creator in rural areas.
Like Costa, Scott said his years on the committee have prepared him for the top job.
“I have cultivated years of expertise and strong partnerships throughout my years of work on these issues, and I believe that I am well suited to take on these challenges,” Scott said.