Hopefuls for Top GOP Slot on Ag Panel Seek More Farm Money

  • Three-way race to succeed retiring Conaway on House committee
  • Informal jockeying seen continuing until selection in 2020

The three lawmakers seeking to replace Rep. Mike Conaway as the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee share a common priority: they want to strengthen farm sector financial support programs.

Conaway (R-Texas) announced over the summer he will retire at the end of his term, setting the stage for succession race that, for now, is a three-way affair between former committee Vice Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Pa.), Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), and Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.).

“We’ve got a really deep bench for the steering committee to try to select from,” said Conaway, who declined to say if he had a preference about who succeeds him.

Reps. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania (left), Austin Scott of Georgia (center) and Rick Crawford of Arkansas (right)
Thompson: Astrid Riecken/Getty Images; Scott: official House portrait; Crawford: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
Reps. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania (left), Austin Scott of Georgia (center) and Rick Crawford of Arkansas (right)
are seeking to be the top Republican member of the House Agriculture Committee in the next Congress.

The candidates will make their case to the House Republican Steering Committee, an intraparty group responsible for assigning party members to committees and seeded with members loyal to party leaders. The Steering Committee pick is then ratified by the party conference, which is often a formality unless a candidate seeks a vote by the full conference.

Thompson may have an edge in that his ascension to vice chairman of the committee in the previous 115th Congress was blessed by the Steering Committee.

While the formal selection process won’t take place until late in 2020, after control of Congress has been decided in the general election and party members know if they are fighting for ranking member spots or committee chairman gavels, those vying for the top spot will be making their cases informally to their colleagues until then.

Farm Priorities

“I’m here to be on the Agriculture Committee. I eat, sleep, and breathe it,” Crawford said in an interview. Crawford has been on the committee since entering the House in 2011 and is in his fifth term. He was also a House conferee to the 2018 farm law.

If chosen as the Republican leader on the committee, Crawford said, he would push for “legislation that we might not have jurisdiction on our own to do, but work with other committees to help facilitate.”

For instance, Crawford said he favors a revised H-2A visa agricultural guest worker program and an agriculture-oriented tax bill that would establish a spending account for farmers specific to disaster relief needs.

For Scott, a new crop insurance program that takes into account harsh weather events and changes in the market is a goal if he is selected.

“We need to be open to a rewrite of what our insurance products are going to look like 10 years from now,” Scott said in an interview

The question will be “how do we create products that are actually going to recognize what appears to be the new norm in volatility and create the products in conjunction with commodity groups and the industries that actually reduce the risk of being a farmer instead of where we are today, which is an increased risk of being in the agriculture business,” he said.

Safety Net Growth

Thompson, who calls Conaway a “great friend and mentor,” said if he were to become the party leader on the committee, he would work to strengthen federal farm programs that provide financial assistance to farmers.

For example, Thompson said, he’s looking forward to the next tranches of the trade bailout payments to farmers as a result of the U.S.-China trade war, and working with the administration “on what type of support our farmers, based on the commodities, are looking for.”

“We need our farm families to exceed expectations financially and part of that is looking at safety nets for difficult times, but most importantly in addition to providing protections, how do we expand the markets for those farm commodities,” Thompson said in an interview.

Similarly, Crawford said programs like the Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage, which pay farmers when crop prices or revenue are less than guaranteed amounts, will need to be altered in the future.

While current standards are working, “I’m not sure we’re going to have the luxury of continuing along those lines because there just continues to be pushback” on crop insurance and the way it is administered, said Crawford.

Safe Districts

All three hail from safe GOP districts. Crawford and Thompson had similar margins in their 2018 elections, easily winning 69% and 68% of the vote, respectively, while Scott faced no challenger.

All three also appear to have solid fundraising credentials. Thompson’s campaign committee contributed $50,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee in the 2017 to 2018 election cycle, according to Federal Election Committee data. Thompson also raised $395,950 directly for the NRCC, according to a Thompson campaign aide.

Crawford contributed $360,875 to the National Republican Congressional Committee in the same cycle through his campaign committee and the unopposed Scott donated $99,000 through his committee, according to FEC data. For comparison, Conaway, the panel’s chairman at the time, gave $410,000 to the NRCC in the cycle.

In terms of political action committee campaign contributions to the trio, agribusiness topped the list of donations by sector for all three in the 2017-2018 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics campaign data.

Uphill Climb

Personal relationships with members will be important for successfully negotiating the next farm bill, said Scott, who predicts the next Congress will have a very slim margin. With Republicans facing a seemingly uphill climb to retake control of the House, Scott said a Republican ranking member would need to find common ground with Democrats.

“I think the biggest mistake one can make is not recognizing what is and what is not doable and I think that the thing that helps us in addition to that is the personal relationships we have on both sides of the aisle,” Scott said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Teaganne Finn in Washington at tfinn@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Jonathan Nicholson at jnicholson@bgov.com