Billions of dollars in subsidies to farmers and the future of cryptocurrency regulation are at risk of being in the hands of rookie subcommittee chairmen next year, no matter which party wins control of Congress.
Even if Democrats defy history and keep the House majority, the lawmakers in line to head panels that handle commodities and risk management may not be back.
Democratic Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney (N.Y.) and Angie Craig (Minn.) are in reelection contests rated as tossups by the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter. So is Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), chair of Senate Agriculture’s Commodities, Risk Management, and Trade Subcommittee.
If they get their gavels in the next Congress, they’ll influence US policy at a crucial time.
Every five years, Congress revisits commodity law in the farm bill, a multifaceted measure that sets out how much federal money will be authorized to keep the nation’s food supply stable and grocery prices affordable, partly through subsidies to growers. The 2018 version (Public Law 115-334) covered spending of about $428 billion over five years.
“The biggest business at hand almost immediately in the new session’s gonna be writing the 2023 Farm Bill,” said soon-to-retire Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), who heads the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee. Craig is next in seniority on that panel, and “if Angie’s the chair of it, I’m sure that will be her major focus,” Bustos said in an interview.
All three Democrats face headwinds, with Republicans favored to flip at least one congressional chamber. The party in the White House gained House seats only three times in the 22 midterm elections from 1934-2018, and averaged a loss of 28 House seats and four Senate seats. It’s done better in the Senate, gaining seats six times.
“I don’t think it’s a neutral environment, I think it’s a Republican-leaning one,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. As Craig, Maloney, and Warnock campaign on their agriculture credentials, “every little bit helps,” he said, “given how red a lot of rural places are.”
Digital Asset Oversight
Unless Democrats manage to enact something in the lame-duck session, next year also could be pivotal for Bitcoin and other virtual currency companies, some of which are subject to competing government regulators.
The Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit Subcommittee, which Maloney heads, has been examining digital asset oversight.
Maloney’s subcommittee and members of the Senate Agriculture Committee have been separately considering whether to move ahead on legislation that would consolidate digital money regulation with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission rather than the Securities and Exchange Commission.
A federal judge in 2018 upheld the CFTC’s jurisdiction over the trading of virtual currencies. SEC Chair Gary Gensler has said most digital assets are securities that are subject to his agency’s rules.
The panel that Craig could head has focused on the crop insurance portion of the farm bill, which includes subsidies to help farmers afford to pay the premiums on their safety-net policies. Among the decisions ahead is whether to extend that assistance to those who grow more types of crops.
“The commodity title is one of the more important titles of the bill,” said former Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), a lobbyist and former House Agriculture Committee chair. “You’ll see a lot of work done on fine-tuning it or perhaps introducing new concepts.”
On her legislative website, Craig lists a “strong farm safety net” as a top priority. She also sponsored a measure (H.R. 7675) that sought to create a USDA task force to address farm supply chain interruptions.
Whoever writes that part of the farm bill also will be asked to examine the impact of inflation on essential farm materials such as fertilizer, which yo-yoed in price after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, said Conaway, whose lobbying clients include FTX and the American Association of Crop Insurers.
Each of the endangered lawmakers has a rural constituency, and their work on agriculture policy is way to show voters bipartisan accomplishments.
For instance, Warnock’s work as chairman included work on debt relief for minority farmers (Public Law 117-2) in 2021, and this year he pushed to replace that program with non-race-based relief after white farmers sued, arguing the program was discriminatory.
Democrats’ tax, climate, and health care package (Public Law 117-169) ultimately included $3.1 billion for debt relief for farmers struggling to pay their bills, along with $2.2 billion in funding for farmers who’ve experienced discrimination from USDA.
In his reelection campaign against former football player Herschel Walker (R), Warnock’s campaign aired a TV ad touting a bipartisan letter he led last year to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai urging elimination of trade barriers facing southern peanut farmers. The ad shows the senator standing on a heap of legumes as he brags about the state’s robust peanut market. “That’s nuts,” Warnock says in the spot.
Maloney’s campaign responded to an inquiry about his subcommittee work by referring Chris Pawleski, a vegetable and fruit farmer in that district.
Pawleski, who has described himself as a grassroots public policy advocate, said he had urged Maloney support farm debt relief and worked with the congressman on trade and flood mitigation issues. “Having members on the authorizing committee helps out immensely,” Pawleski said. “It makes what I do a heck of a lot easier.”
Of course, if historic trends continue and Republicans gain power in the Nov. 8 election, they’ll be the ones with the gavels and the decision-making power, relegating the former chairmen to relying on relationships and persuasive skills to influence federal policy on farm subsidies, nutrition policy, and cryptocurrency regulation.
Overall, current ranking members on Agriculture subcommittees are well-positioned to slide into the chairman roles; only Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), the top Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations Republican, is in a highly competitive election.
None of the panels has done enough, in Conaway’s mind, to lay the groundwork for a bill that influences as much as 10% of the nation’s economic output.
“We have an awful lot of learning to take place in a very short period,” he said.