Pro Farmer Editors
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) officially announced today what had been rumored in Washington -- he'll give up the chairman's gavel of the Ag Committee for the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The opening was created by the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).
Harkin moved to the HELP panel from the ag panel after Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), next in seniority on the HELP Committee, opted to keep his chairmanship of the Senate Banking Committee.
The exit of Harkin from the ag panel's top post vaulted Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) into the position despite three other lawmakers holding more seniority. Those lawmakers, however, already hold chairmanships of key committees: Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) at Judiciary (and a former chairman of the ag panel), Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) at Budget and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) at Finance.
Harkin made it clear he was still going to have a strong interest in agriculture issues in the Senate. "I intend to remain a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, a Committee I have been on since I first joined the Senate in 1985. My dedication to the Agriculture Committee dates back to my first year in Congress when I served on the House Agriculture Committee in 1975."
Sen. Lincoln becomes the first woman to lead the ag panel, and said in taking the chairman's role that she looked forward to the challenge as a "seventh-generation Arkansan and farmer's daughter." Lincoln has served on the ag panel since first being elected in 1998. "It has been a committee of significant importance to my constituents and our state's economy," she observed.
As for the areas she'll focus on, Lincoln pledged to "work with my colleagues to build upon the Committee's strong record and devote my full energy to producing forward-looking, balanced priorities on behalf of all families and communities. I will continue to fight for the hardworking farm families and rural communities who provide the safest, most abundant and affordable supply of food and fiber in the world."