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Mid-Term Elections Tilt Power in Congress

November 5, 2010


Mid-Term Elections Tilt Power in Congress

The November 2nd election proved to be the wave of change predicted by most analysts. Republicans gained more than 60 seats in the House of Representatives, and edged closer to the majority in the Senate. The House is now split between 239 Republicans and 187 Democrats, with nine races still undecided.

The Republicans robbed the Democrats of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate by picking up five seats. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (AK) write-in campaign did better than expected, and reports are she will maintain her current seat. As of November 5th, the Senate is split 53 to 46 in favor of the Democrats. Sen. Harry Reid (NV) narrowly defeated his tea-party opponent; therefore, he is expected to remain as Majority Leader in the Senate in 2011.

The new Republican chair of the Agriculture Committee is expected to be Rep. Frank Lucas (OK), while the current Democratic Chairman, Collin Peterson (MN), will become the Ranking Minority member once the 111th Congress ends. At least 15 Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee (more than half) will not return. Rep. Jim Costa’s (CA) race is still too close to call.

Four of the 16 House Committee Chairmen will not be returning in the 112th election. Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey (WI) retired (and his seat was taken by a Republican), but Armed Services Chair Ike Skelton (MO), Budget Chair John Spratt (SC), and Transportation and Infrastructure Chair James Oberstar (MN) lost reelection bids. None of the top Republicans on those committees, all of whom are expected to contend for the chairmanships of those panels in January, lost this week.

The conservative Democratic “Blue Dog” caucus took a beating. The caucus lost two members to retirement and had two others run for higher office, and out of the remaining 50 members, 24 Blue Dogs lost. This group of Democrats, mostly from rural districts, often bridged the gap between parties. Congress will be more divided into party extremes, which will only make passing controversial, comprehensive bills more difficult.

In the Senate, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (MI) is expected to be chosen as the Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, with the loss Tuesday of current Chair Blanche Lincoln (AR). Sen. Lincoln was the only member of the Senate Agriculture Committee to lose.

At least 25 members, all Democrats, of the Congressional Dairy Farmer Caucus (CDFC) will not return in the next Congress. A massive education process on dairy policy will be necessary in 2011, as NMPF and CDFC chairs recruit incoming freshmen representing dairy districts.

The game plan for “Lame Duck” session is still up in the air. Congress is scheduled to return November 15, 2010, for a week to vote on a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government. There were 20 bills vying for time on the schedule. NMPF’s expectation is that very little will be accomplished other than the must-pass CR.