- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 2, 2014

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) - The top Democrat on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday said former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Lee Witt is assured a spot on the panel if he wins his bid for a south Arkansas congressional seat this fall.

Speaking at a forum focusing on farming issues, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota said Witt will serve on the panel if he’s elected to the 4th Congressional District. Witt is running against Republican state Rep. Bruce Westerman for the seat. The district is currently represented by Tom Cotton, a Republican who is challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor.

“He will be somebody that will be at my right hand and that I listen to, and because of that, Arkansas will have a seat at the table, I guarantee you that,” Peterson said.

Two-term Republican U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, who represents east Arkansas’ 1st Congressional District, is already serving on the Agriculture committee. But Peterson said he wants to have someone from his party representing a rural district like the 4th on the panel as well.

Ryan James, Westerman’s campaign manager, said the state legislator believed Crawford was doing a great job on the committee and was eyeing other appointments if he wins the November election. James said Westerman’s top goal was to get on the Energy and Commerce Committee, citing the district’s natural resources and the likelihood any changes to the federal health law would go through that panel.

During the hour-long forum, Witt and Peterson both backed the nearly $100-billion-a-year Farm Bill that was approved earlier this year and said they opposed efforts to try and have its food stamp funding provision considered separately.

“I’m for leaving it in there because it helps our farmers and it feeds a lot of people,” Witt said.

Peterson said he didn’t believe it would be possible to approve a Farm Bill that only dealt with agriculture funding given the number of members of Congress who represent urban districts.

“It’s kind of a marriage we have between the urban people and the rural people that’s worked pretty well,” Peterson said.

Cotton has come under fire in his Senate bid for voting against the Farm Bill in January and for pushing for the food stamps provision to be considered separately. Westerman has praised Cotton’s push to have food stamps considered separately, but has stopped short of saying whether he would have voted for the combined legislation in January.

“I support the basic tenets of the farm bill, but like all federal policy, also believe there should be rigorous scrutiny to eliminate waste and implement reforms, particularly in the SNAP program,” Westerman said in a statement released by his campaign. “I will cast my vote on any future farm bill based on those principles and in the interests of the Fourth District and the State of Arkansas.”


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