If GOP retains majority: Cochran could head Appropriations

If the Republican Party can find a way to hang on to its Senate majority in next year's elections, Mississippi's senior senator could soon find himself chairing one of the most powerful committees in Congress.

“It is widely expected by many that Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., will take over the chairmanship of the appropriations committee,” Senate Agriculture Committee staff member Tyler Wegmeyer told growers attending the 2003 Deep South Fruit and Vegetable Conference Dec. 3 in Mobile, Ala.

For that to happen, Republicans must hold on to all or most of the Senate seats they currently hold, or pick up some of the seats held by Democrats that are up for grabs next November.

Four Southern senators are retiring at the end of this term, intensifying the battle over which party will control the Senate. Announcing they will not seek election to another term are Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., and Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla.

Currently in the Senate there are 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one Independent. Come November of next year, 34 Senate seats will be up for re-election. Of those, 19 are currently held by Democrats and 15 are held by Republicans.

How the Senate Agriculture Committee functions after next year's election is anyone's guess, says Wegmeyer. However, if the Republicans are still in control of the Senate after the 2004 election, a handful of senators will find themselves moving to more plush and powerful offices.

“If Republicans maintain control of the Senate, five committee chairmen will be required to relinquish their posts because of term limits. The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Ted Stevens from Alaska, is one of the chairmen who will have to step down from their posts.”

Assuming Cochran were to take over the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he would be forced to give up his seat at the helm of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“The line to succeed Sen. Cochran in the agriculture committee is a bit more murky,” says Wegmeyer. Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., who was previously Senate Agriculture Committee chairman, currently chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is unlikely to give up that post. The next in line would be Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., but he would have to give up his Majority Whip post in order to take the chairmanship, and that is also unlikely, according to Senate insiders.

That leaves Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who currently chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee. “The Senate Intelligence Committee is a very important committee right now, and so it is probably a toss up of whether or not Sen. Roberts would leave that post to chair the Agriculture Committee,” says Wegmeyer.

If Roberts were to remain at the helm of the Senate Intelligence Committee, then the agriculture chairmanship could pass all the way down to freshman Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

“There is certainly the potential for a lot of changes for the next Congress,” says Wegmeyer.

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