Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts was bumped from his place as ranking member of the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee on Thursday.
As part of committee assignments announced Thursday, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who had timed out as ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, asserted his right to become the ranking Republican on the agriculture committee.
The ranking member leads the minority party members on a committee and negotiates with the committee chairman.
Roberts will remain on the agriculture committee, and he said he will assert his seniority to become ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee. He also retains his place on the Senate Finance Committee.
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The Senate will take up writing a new farm bill this year, after the 2012 bill passed by the Senate failed to pass the House.
Roberts said Thursday that he respects the Senate’s traditions of seniority.
“Sen. Cochrane has my full support,” Roberts said. “I’ve known him for over 20 years. I moved that his nomination be accepted.”
Still, the bump is the second blow in a month to Kansas’ influence in shaping the country’s agriculture policy.
Tim Huelskamp, who represents central and western Kansas in the U.S. House of Representatives, was removed from the House Agriculture Committee in December, causing a lot of worry by the state’s agricultural interests.
Roberts downplayed concerns that Kansas farm interests will lose influence.
“In many ways it could be more,” he said. “I’ll be free to say more without all the strictures and remaining within the lines. If it’s not in the interest of the High Plains, I’m going to say something about it.”
Chapman Rackaway, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University, agreed that Roberts’ loss of his leadership post on the committee is far less harmful to the state than Huelskamp’s removal.
“It will be a little harder for him to get what he wants in a farm bill than he would otherwise, but the net effect of losing ranking status is fairly small,” he said.
Roberts said the state’s influence over crucial national issues may even grow because he will have more time to devote to other committees.
He said that there will be a big fight this year to streamline Senate rules to make the body more responsive and representative.
“Basically we have to change the way the Senate operates,” he said. “I know (Majority Leader) Harry Reid, and I know I can work with him and Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee, and I can be a vocal champion to get it back to being a real Senate.”