The Senate is in recess so it will be another week before cattle farmer Cindy Hyde-Smith, a veteran of state politics, formally succeeds Thad Cochran as U.S. senator from Mississippi. She already has a Republican challenger in the November special election to serve the final two years of Cochran's term, and had a get-acquainted meeting with top White House officials last week.
Seven-term Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee and a leading proponent of Southern crops in the Agriculture Committee, announced he will resign, effective April 1, due to poor health. His departure will punctuate efforts to draft the 2018 farm bill in the coming weeks and could diminish the South's influence over the legislation.
The USDA-FDA appropriations bill awaiting a vote in the Senate "short-changes food safety needs" and "under-funds efforts to address the challenge of child poverty" while carrying harmful "ideological provisions," said the White House budget office.
Challenger Chris McDaniel, who lost a run-off to Sen Thad Cochran on June 24, is seeking money to "mount the legal challenge that this case deserves,” according to ABC News. Cochran is the GOP leader on the Senate Agriculture Committee. McDaniel sent a fundraising email contesting the runoff results on Wednesday and a spokesman said the McDaniel campaign has found 4,900 ballots with voting irregularities after checking 53 or Mississippi's 82 counties.
Companion bills in the House and Senate would triple the funding, to $15 million a year, for the farm-to-school grant program, which buys locally grown fresh food to help feed schoolchildren.
Second-term Sen Jeff Merkley of Oregon is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture and FDA for the 114th Congress, said Sen Barbara Mikulski, the Democratic leader on the committee, in a statement.
Kansas Sen Pat Roberts easily won his fourth term in the Senate, beating independent Greg Orman by 9 points. Roberts says he expects to be Agriculture Committee chairman when Republicans take control of the Senate in January. He would be the first person to chair the both the House and Senate Agriculture committees.
Sen Pat Roberts, potentially Agriculture Committee chairman if Republicans win control of the Senate, rarely mentions his record on agriculture - defender of crop insurance and author of the 1996 Freedom to Farm law - on the campaign trail.
Kansas Sen Pat Roberts, during a campaign stop at a livestock auction barn, told listeners, “When we get a Republican majority, I’ll be chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and we are gonna put the livestock producer first."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and 70 other members of Congress, mostly Democrats, got perfect grades from advocacy group Food Policy Action for their votes on food and agriculture issues over the past two years.