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A Salute to Chairman Emeritus Mike Conaway

07/31/2019 3:03 PM | Jill Whitley (Administrator)

After 15 years in Congress, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Emeritus Mike Conaway (R-TX) is retiring after he completes the remaining 17 months of his term in office. 

America’s farmers and ranchers are losing an extraordinary champion in Congress. 

Chairman Conaway served 4 years as the Chairman of the General Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee where he helped Chairman Frank Lucas pass the 2014 Farm Bill. 

At the time, Conaway warned that crafting a farm bill predicated on the notion that commodity prices will remain high forever was a bad idea. 

Had Congress fully heeded the Chairman’s warnings then, we would have a stronger safety net today — but, thankfully, Congress heeded his warnings enough to make the safety net a lot stronger than what it would have been but for his intervention. 

Of course, the Chairman also spent 4 years as Chairman of the full Committee during which time he succeeded in pulling off what many observers said he could not do:  pass a Farm Bill. 

H.R. 2, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 — the current Farm Bill — bears his name. 

He is one of only a baker’s dozen of men hailing from just 7 states to have this distinction. 

The pantheon includes: 

Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-TX), 2018

Rep. Frank D. Lucas (R-OK), 2014

Rep. Collin C. Peterson (D-MN), 2008 

Rep. Larry E. Combest (R-TX), 2002

Rep. C. Patrick “Pat” Roberts (R-KS), 1996 

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), 1990

Rep. E. Kika de la Garza (D-TX), 1985

Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), 1981

Sen. Herman Talmadge (D-GA), 1977   

Rep. William R. Poage (D-TX), 1973

Rep. Harold D. Cooley (D-NC), 1965, 1956, 1949 

Rep. Clifford R. Hope (R-KS), 1954, 1948 

Rep. Marvin Jones (D-TX), 1938, 1933

Perhaps never has a Chairman more deftly defended the Committee-passed product on the House floor.  With the help of House leadership on both sides of the aisle, the Ranking Member, and the Chairman of the Rules Committee, the 2018 Farm Bill cleared the House in a shape largely formulated by the Committee to best address difficult conditions in farm and ranch country, rejecting poison pill amendments.   

His was the first Farm Bill to be approved by a GOP controlled White House and Congress since Clifford Hope’s bill in 1954, and the first by a GOP controlled Congress since 1996. 

Mr. Conaway garnered strong support for his Farm Bill from the President, the Secretary of Agriculture, and House leadership where in the past chairman have often struggled to do so.

Despite a flat budget, Conaway insisted on holding crop insurance harmless during the process while strengthening the safety net provided by the Commodity Title of the Farm Bill — the two policies that keep farmers in business in the wake of a natural disaster or in the face of predatory foreign trading practices.

This was not an easy task without new money, with the 2018 Farm Bill being the first since 1990 not to have at least some new funds to work with, be it through use of an old budget baseline, new funding from the Budget Committee, new funding from the Ways & Means and Finance Committees, or savings from the elimination of a Direct Payment which leveraged both savings and new countercyclical support.  

After the 2014 Farm Bill, Conaway never took his eye off of addressing the shortcomings in the cotton and dairy safety net.  Conaway worked on temporary relief for both until a long term solution could be had and it was due to his persistence that cotton and dairy policy was significantly strengthened as part of the Commodity Title even before the Farm Bill debate began — thus, making the path possible for passage of the 2018 Farm Bill itself.

While an unapologetic champion of his district, West Texas, and Lone Star State agriculture, Conaway has always viewed himself as a friend and champion of all the nation’s farmers and ranchers and has demonstrated that in both words and action over and again on policies that have limited interest or impact back home but mean a great deal to producers elsewhere. 

The confidence and trust he enjoys from his leadership, fellow committee leaders, and his colleagues have allowed him to step into policy debates outside of the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Committee, to help press for H2A reforms and improvements, to ensure a favorable tax reform bill for agriculture, to fend off attacks on appropriations, to ensure that environmental and energy policies are favorable to the farmer and rancher, and to make for certain that America’s farmers and ranchers get a fair shake on a level playing field in trade.  And, when farmers and ranchers saw a difficult farm recession made worse by unjustified retaliatory tariffs, he was a forceful advocate for the Administration to stand by producers with trade aid. 

Mostly, Conaway worked behind the scenes to effectuate a positive outcome for agriculture.  But, occasionally, he would have to step onto center stage.  Few will forget when the powers that be negotiated a spending deal in 2015 that would have imposed ruinous  cuts on crop insurance, undoing in a single bill what had been built up over 25 years, and Chairman Conaway stepping in to block action until he received a commitment to unring the bell in a later transportation bill.     

Mike Conaway has led American agriculture through many a battle. 

He cares deeply for U.S. farmers and ranchers because he grew up in rural West Texas, surrounded by agriculture and reminded of its vital importance not just to the economy but the culture of his community. 

So, when he came to Washington, he was a grounded man who knew what he was about, imbued with the time-honored though increasingly less celebrated virtues of faith in God, love of country, fealty to family and friends and community, duty, honor, self-sacrifice, self-restraint, charity, gratitude, personal piety, discipline, and the other truly great virtues that have made America great. 

In short, we have so much respect for Mike Conaway and we thank him for his service and unwavering friendship. 

The CSA Crew  

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