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House Ag Committee starts out with partisanship

Farm Progress
Jacqui Fatka

After watching 8 hours of debate between the Democrats and Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee Wednesday one thing is clear: The committee’s history of bipartisanship is in serious jeopardy. And it could bring a rocky start for a Congress needing a glimmer of hope for bipartisanship for the 117th Congress.

In the last three months since the election, many farm policy watchers hoped bipartisanship could prevail with narrow margins in the House and a dead-even split in the Senate. But Democrats are coming out of the gates with a partisan approach of using the reconciliation process to advance another $1.9 trillion in COVID relief rather than relying on bipartisanship as we saw in 2020 on the previously approved COVID relief packages.

We saw our first taste of the new House Agriculture Committee led by Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., and Ranking Member Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa. No more straight shooting from Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who lost in his re-election bid. Instead, we saw Democrats saying one thing and voting otherwise.

Actions seem to speak louder than words. Although Scott says he’s very much interested in maintaining “our great legacy of bipartisanship” he says this procedure on the first meeting and markup is different as the agriculture committee was asked to put together something quickly and significantly to assist getting the COVID-19 vaccine out more quickly and make sure there are ample enough resources to feed hungry people.

“Don’t use this as a measure of where we are going,” Scott says, adding, “You have not had a more bipartisan partner than David Scott.”

Thompson response: “I know what’s in your heart in terms of bipartisanship. That’s why this markup is so disappointing.”

In a statement following the party line vote, Thompson notes, “House Democrats made it explicitly clear [Wednesday] there was never any intention to reach across the aisle and that the collective voice of Rural America would be silenced. In one breath, the chairman and his members praised our amendments, and in the next, they voted against them. They love our ideas and think they are necessary to protect families and the vulnerable from COVID—just not enough to upset Speaker Pelosi’s budget power grab.”

During the hearing Thompson says Democrats shot down all but one of the 11 amendments introduced by Republican members, not because they disagreed with the policy, but in many cases were in agreement but in order to not let a “good idea derail the process,” which Scott said many times during the markup.

This included amendments to expand funding for rural broadband needs, limiting spending on additional relief until 80% of funds in each program were already used before allocating more and requirements that loan forgiveness for farmers of color would only occur if the financial distress was a result of COVID-19.

Even the one vote that saw Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, vote with all Republicans sent a tizzy of Democrats wanting a recount and restating of the roll call votes.  Axne, who represents a predominantly rural district in western and central Iowa, ended up voting for an amendment allowing for disaster payments for farmers impacted by the derecho. Axne did get praise from the Republicans for joining the Republican effort.

Thompson concluded during the hearing: “Not only do I hope we can do better. I know we can do better. We’re setting the floor low. I look forward to being that shining star of a bipartisan committee.”

Scott pledged to Thompson great improvement and participation with his Republican members.

Now it's time to watch if we see actions or just more words to back up those promises.

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