Cochran ousts Roberts as top Republican on Senate's Ag Committee

Sen. Thad Cochran (Miss.) has ousted Sen. Pat Roberts (Kan.) as the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee in the new Congress.

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The move makes it more likely that the new five-year farm bill the committee is crafting will include additional provisions for Southern crops.

"I will use the experiences I've gained in serving on the committee since 1979 to help quickly advance a new farm bill that will meet the needs of our country’s farmers, small businesses and those who rely on the nutrition programs under the committee’s jurisdiction," Cochran said in a statement.

Roberts, who had wanted to keep his position as ranking member, on Thursday conceded that Cochran has the seniority to win the role. 

"Sen. Thad Cochran is going to assert his seniority on the Ag Committee and will become the ranking member," Roberts said. "Seniority is a well-respected and historic privilege in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Cochran has my full support, and I will move his nomination when I bring the committee together for a vote later today. I expect it to be unanimous.”

Roberts said that he will now assert his seniority to take over as ranking member on the Senate Rules Committee. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) held that role in the last Congress.

The Kansas senator said he will use his new position to fight changes to filibuster rights.

“This committee will become increasingly important as I expect to play a very vigorous role in defense of minority rights, which are under attack by the Democrat majority leader, as well as top-line issues like campaign finance reform and federal election law,” he said. 

He noted in his statement that he remains on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which is in charge of taxation and trade.

The last Congress failed to agree on a five-year farm bill and the Agriculture Committee will be trying to craft a new one either as part of a February debt-ceiling deal or by the time the current farm-bill extension expires in September.

The Senate-passed 2012 farm bill did away with direct payments to farmers and created revenue-based crop insurance that Southern peanut and rice farmers, and Cochran, found insufficient. The House Agriculture bill, which House leaders never brought to the floor, was more favorable to Southern crops. 

Cochran served as the top Republican on the powerful Appropriations Committee, in charge of discretionary spending, in the last Congress. He was term-limited and that position has been taken by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).

— This report was originally published at 3:52 p.m. and last updated at 7:02 p.m.