Saxby Chambliss is the new chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, replacing Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, who will head up the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Although Chambliss, a Republican from Georgia, is only in his second year in the Senate, he brings a wealth of experience on agricultural issues to the post, according to farm organization leaders.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee announced the new Senate chairmanships Dec. 20. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas was next in line to succeed Cochran as chairman of the Agriculture Committee but reportedly asked Frist if he could remain as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“Sen. Chambliss is uniquely qualified to lead the committee during a period that will include historical trade negotiations and preparations for new farm law,” said Woody Anderson, chairman of the National Cotton Council. “He has a depth of knowledge about production agriculture, conservation, nutrition and research programs through his work on the 1996 and 2002 farm bills.”
Chambliss, whose hometown is Moultrie, Ga., served on the House Agriculture Committee for eight years, the last two as chairman of its Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, before winning election to the Senate in 2002.
He is credited with helping win passage of a marketing loan for peanuts in the 2002 farm bill. He also worked with House Ag Committee Chairman Larry Combest and ranking member Charlie Stenholm to include counter-cyclical payments for all commodities in the legislation.
While he has remained supportive of the major provisions of the farm bill, he has been quoted recently as saying he believes cuts may have to be made in farm spending to help reduce the federal deficit.
“It's given a helping hand in the tough years,” Chambliss said in a recent interview. “But it's been a very expensive bill. We're always concerned about budget issues.”
All discretionary spending programs were hit with a 0.83 percent reduction in the fiscal 2005 omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in November. Bush administration officials reportedly have been told to cut spending by 5 percent in the 2006 budget plan.
As chairman of the Senate committee, Chambliss will be responsible for conducting confirmation hearings for Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns, nominated to be secretary of agriculture. He also will begin the process of preparing new farm legislation to replace the 2002 bill, which expires with the 2007 crop.
“Sen. Chambliss played a key role in drafting the last two farm bills,” said American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman. “He understands farm programs and will be instrumental during negotiations for the next farm bill. Sen. Chambliss also has been striving to insure farmers have an adequate legal supply of farm labor, and he worked hard to reform our nation's crop insurance program.
“He has always been open to working with farm organizations, seeking input and being able to see all sides of the equation. He is a good leader who has earned the respect of the agriculture industry.”
Chambliss attended Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, La., and earned his B.B.A degree from the University of Georgia. He received his Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Tennessee in 1968.
He was elected to the House in 1994 and defeated incumbent Mac Cleland in his first run for the Senate in 2002.