Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow announced Thursday that she will not seek reelection in 2024 in Michigan. Stabenow was just elevated to the No. 3 role in Senate Democratic leadership.
The agriculture panel’s top Democrat since 2011, Stabenow has a reputation as a tenacious negotiator willing to spend hours sounding out colleagues on their priorities.
In farm bill legislation, Stabenow has juggled lawmakers’ regional priorities for traditional commodity crops and goals for giving organic farmers, fruit and vegetable producers and urban growers more access to Agriculture Department programs.
She also defended the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamp program, from conservatives’ efforts to either reduce funding or restrict eligibility The program typically accounts for more than half of all farm bill spending.
“For the next two years, I am intensely focused on continuing this important work to improve the lives of Michiganders. This includes leading the passage of the next five-year Farm Bill which determines our nation’s food and agriculture policies,” Stabenow said in a statement. “It is also key in protecting our land and water and creating jobs in our rural and urban communities.”
Stabenow spent much of the 117th Congress working on climate change, cryptocurrency regulations and laying the ground for the 2023 farm bill.
She was first elected to the Senate in 2000, after representing a Michigan district in the House. If she had run again, she faced a competitive race in a state that President Joe Biden won by less than 3 points in 2020.
“With Debbie’s help, and the strong Michigan Democratic Party she helped build, Debbie and I are confident Democrats will retain the seat,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement.
Republicans will certainly be targeting the seat.
“Senate Democrats don’t even have a campaign chair yet and they are already dealing with a major retirement,” Mike Berg, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement. “This could be the first of many Senate Democrats who decide to retire rather than lose.”
Stabenow, 72, won her fourth term in 2018 with 52 percent of the vote against John James, a Republican who also lost the 2020 Senate race against Sen. Gary Peters but in November was elected to the House from the 10th District.
Stabenow had $4.3 million in her campaign account on Sept. 30, according to the most recent report filed with the Federal Election Commission. James raised $48.8 million in 2020.
The Agriculture committees are expected to spend much of this year working on the next farm bill. The current law that expires Sept. 30 has 12 titles, and is Congress’ most wide-reaching effort to shape policy that includes conservation, nutrition programs for low-income households, subsidized crop insurance, trade promotion, agricultural research and farm income support.
Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., who is in line to become the House Agriculture chairman, has already questioned the level of spending on climate goals and is wary of efforts to focus more on greenhouse gas reductions in conservation programs rather than economic benefits to farmers.
In a press call Thursday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he was heartened by Stabenow’s decision to serve until 2024. “She is going to work as hard as she can possibly work to make sure that we do have a farm bill notwithstanding whatever challenges may be presented in that process,” he said.
Senate Agriculture ranking member John Boozman, R-Ark., noted her bipartisan work on the last farm bill. “Her work with former Chairman Pat Roberts to pass the last farm bill that received a record number of votes in support on the Senate floor gives me confidence that we can move the next farm bill forward this year in the same manner,” Boozman said in a statement.
Stabenow’s committee became more deeply involved in cryptocurrency legislation in the 117th Congress, but may see its role diminished this year as the Senate Banking Committee asserts itself in the wake of the collapse of the FTX cryptocurrency exchange.
Stabenow introduced a bill, with Boozman as co-sponsor, in the last Congress that would give the Commodity Futures Trading Commission jurisdiction over cryptocurrency spot markets if the assets are deemed commodities.
Sam Bankman-Fried, the cofounder and former CEO of FTX who now faces federal fraud and conspiracy charges, had championed that bill. Stabenow and Boozman rejected criticism aligning the bill with the disgraced former CEO and Stabenow had said she would mark up the bill in the current Congress.