Gossip has been swirling around DC lately that there would be a big game of musical chairs in Senate committee chairmanships, due to the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy. Today the music got turned up loud, and chairs were, in fact, moved. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark) will become the new chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry (Lincoln, in photo). Sen. Lincoln is the first woman and first Arkansan to ever lead the Ag committee in its 184 year history, but it’s not her only first: She was the youngest woman ever elected to the senate, at age 38, in 1998. She also has long experience with Ag issues; her father was a farmer, and she’s a second term Dem who defends crop subsidies, has served on Ag sub committees, and founded a Senate group that focuses on hunger. She also has lots of constituents who are farmers, particularly of cotton, poultry, and rice.
The Ag committee has broad jurisdiction, and includes financial regulatory reform and health care reform, as well as climate change–all of which are priorities for President Obama. But it’s likely Sen. Lincoln will break with President Obama in some way, over each of these issues. In the past, she’s voiced opposition to cap and trade issues for Ag; Sen. Lincoln referred to the climate change legislation as "a heavy lift for the senate" today. She’s also a firm supporter of farm subsidies, which she’s defended repeatedly. Today, Sen. Lincoln announced that reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which funds the federal school lunch program and other feeding programs, will be delayed until early 2010–which Hill watchers had been predicting anyway, unrelated to Sen. Lincoln’s assumption of the chair. Sen. Lincoln also introduced a new school lunch bill today–but the text is still unavailable.
*Sen. Lincoln is taking over from Sen. Tom Harkin, (D-Iowa), who will now chair the Senate Health Committee, which was previously chaired by Sen. Edward Kennedy. Sen. Lincoln’s official bio is here, and her statement on her new chairmanship is here.