U.S. ag committee chair handles many files, even Russian spies

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It’s not often that espionage, international intrigue and suggestions of treason intrude in agriculture policy discussions, but Michael Conaway has one leg in each sphere.

And he says the espionage won’t disrupt or delay all-important farmer concerns.

“My new responsibilities with respect to the Russia investigation will not slow us down on the farm bill,” Conaway, chair of the House of Representatives agriculture committee, told a North American Agricultural Journalists meeting April 25.

Conaway recently became the head of the House intelligence committee’s investigation into possible Russian interference with the 2016 U.S. election and suggestions that some members of President Donald Trump’s campaign might have had inappropriate contacts with the Russians. 

That provides him with an extremely busy schedule in coming months because the exhausting process of forming the next farm bill will be occurring as his Russian investigation is proceeding. 

However, he said good staff and prosecutors on the Russia inquiry will keep that process running well, while he has been knee deep in ag committee work for years. Conaway said he was once on four committees at once, so he knows how to balance.

Legislative efficiency and collegiality will be required for a new farm bill to be in place by October 2018, when the current bill expires, because it is an enormous piece of legislation controlling hundreds of billions of dollars in spending for both agriculture and food stamps.

Farm bills have been stymied at times by ideological and partisan divisions, but it is also often the home of some of the most successful compromises and cross-party co-operation in the U.S. Congress.

That was a point pushed by both Senate agriculture committee chair Pat Roberts and minority leader Debbie Stabenow in comments to NAAJ.

“We had a strong bipartisan coalition last time, and I expect the same thing,” said Stabenow.

“I know that members on both sides of the aisle want to get it done and that we’ll be very serious about getting it done.”

Roberts said there is much partisan rancour in Congress right now, but agriculture tends to be more collegial.

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