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Pelosi allies Peterson and McCollum gain new power in Democratic House

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Collin Peterson and Betty McCollum
Minnesota U.S. Reps Collin Peterson, left, and Betty McCollum, right, will chair powerful committees in the House of Representatives. Peterson will lead the Agriculture committee, and McCollum will lead the Appropriations Interior subcommittee.
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When Democrats took control of the U.S. House from Republicans it put two Minnesotans who have been in Congress a long time in more powerful positions.

U.S. Reps. Collin Peterson, a 28-year veteran of Congress from western Minnesota, and  Betty McCollum, an 18-year veteran who represents St. Paul and its suburbs, will have a big say in major pieces of legislation that emerge from the House. 

Peterson chaired the powerful Agriculture Committee from 2007 to 2011, and now he's back. And McCollum is the incoming chair of the Appropriations Interior Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over $35 billion in annual federal spending.

As the ranking Democrat on the ag committee, Peterson was integral in writing the latest farm bill that President Trump signed into law late last year. With that major task completed, he joked that he doesn't have much to do.

"I kind of in a way worked myself out of a job."

On a more serious note, Peterson said he's got plenty to keep him busy, starting with making sure the Trump Administration implements the Farm Bill the way he and other lawmakers intended it to work.

He said he's concerned the administration will attempt to add work requirements to SNAP, the program that used to be called food stamps. Republicans lost out on that provision when the law was passed. Now they're trying to get it back through rulemaking.

"And I think some of what they're trying to do is illegal," Peterson said. "They're trying to change things that are in the statute and they can't do that."

Using the administrative process to effectively change laws one political party doesn't like has become a way of doing business in Washington, Peterson added.

"What happens is the lobbyists that lose in the legislative process, you know there's this rulemaking process, and those lobbyists just shift over there and in a lot of cases, they spend more money to lobby the administration than they did lobbying us. And we have to keep an eye on that," he said.

For her part, McCollum is signaling that she will oppose sulfide mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

"It's just nothing less than asking for a disaster," McCollum said.

Another McCollum priority is to secure funding for upgrades to the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a 72 mile stretch of the river that flows through the Twin Cities.

The two Minnesotans are part of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's inner circle, said Norman Ornstein, who studies Congress as a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

"The committee chairs form a cabinet for the speaker," Ornstein said.

Even as a subcommittee chair, Ornstein said McCollum will be in a good position to look out for Minnesota and become a bigger player on the national stage.

"You have significant power over government spending and priorities," Ornstein said, "and of course, since we almost always end up with these confrontations and potential government shutdowns and questions of how you're going to reach your deals, the people who chair those subcommittees become more significant as well," he said.