WASHINGTON – Chris Collins will start his congressional career by serving on the House Agriculture and Small Business committees, the former Erie County executive announced Thursday.
“These two committee assignments make perfect sense as I look to bring my real-world experience to Washington and represent the needs and concerns of New York’s 27th Congressional District,” Collins, a longtime small-business owner who will represent a largely rural and suburban district, said in a statement.
The Clarence Republican could not be reached to comment further, but his spokesman, Grant Loomis, said the newly elected lawmaker did not request specific committee assignments.
That’s a rarity in the House of Representatives, where first-term lawmakers often shoot for a plum assignment on a prominent committee – such as Ways and Means or Energy and Commerce – and end up disappointed.
“He knew that all the freshmen are at the low end of the totem pole,” Loomis explained.
While neither of the committees to which Collins was assigned is considered among the top level in the House, the Agriculture Committee in particular has important responsibilities.
With its Senate counterpart, it passes multi-year farm bills that, in essence, stabilize the prices Americans pay for food and develop programs aimed at helping farmers, who work in a notoriously volatile industry. The Agriculture Committee also has jurisdiction over the food stamp program.
Given that Congress is mired in a stalemate over drawing up a new farm bill to replace the one that expired Sept. 30, a committee-level debate on the farm bill could be one of the first orders of business Collins faces after taking office.
“Throughout the campaign, I visited with dozens of crop and dairy farmers who shared with me their daily struggles of trying to run efficient, profitable farms despite the regulations and burdensome bureaucracy coming out of Washington,” Collins said. “One of my very top goals as a member of Congress will be to help farmers have a legal and reliable labor force by pushing for much-needed improvements to our nation’s guest worker program.”
The Small Business Committee – once headed by then-Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda – has jurisdiction over the Small Business Administration, but its influence on business and economic issues pales in comparison with the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees broad swaths of the American economy.
Nevertheless, Collins said he was happy to be serving on the Small Business Committee.
“Being a member of Congress may be new to me, but I’ve spent my entire adult life in the small-business world,” said Collins. “Small business is the backbone of our economy, and as this country continues to climb out of the devastating recession, the federal government needs to focus on making it easier for small businesses to grow and thrive, instead of harder.”
Collins will be sworn in as a member of the House on Jan. 3 after defeating Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Hamburg, in November’s election.
Hochul serves on the Armed Services and Homeland Security committees.