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Opinion: Delegation uses seats to push agenda

The country is hearing a whole lot about President Obama's economic stimulus plan approved by Congress this past week. That high-stakes, lightning-speed, budget-choking bill deserves every bit of media attention it will get, but it's not the only...

The country is hearing a whole lot about President Obama's economic stimulus plan approved by Congress this past week. That high-stakes, lightning-speed, budget-choking bill deserves every bit of media attention it will get, but it's not the only news out of Capitol Hill.

Most of Congress' legislation takes the slow train through committees, and committee assignments for the next two years were made this past week. Here's a look at the assignments for South Dakota's delegation and how our representatives plan to use them to push legislation.

n Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., has the choicest committee seats, with his seat on the Appropriations Committee being equal to four-of-a-kind aces in a poker game. This puts him in a better position than most to influence the popular topic of the day -- earmarks.

However, a spokeswoman argues that even more important are funding levels for a wide array of federal programs, from rural health care to highway spending.

"As an appropriator, Tim and the entire state have a powerful voice on this committee and can make sure the state is well represented," said Julianne Fisher, Johnson's press secretary.

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Johnson also sits on the recently high-profile Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, where the CEOs of the nation's largest banks have given historic testimony. While the committee's work directly affects Citibank and its South Dakota offices, the committee's other duties are equally important to South Dakota, Fisher says.

"Everyone always forgets the housing and urban development portions. Sen. Johnson consistently fights for affordable housing. There are also transit provisions that come through this committee that help the state," she said.

Johnson's seat on the Indian Affairs Committee is no doubt common knowledge among the residents of South Dakota's nine American Indian reservations.

Last but not least, Johnson sits on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which sets out the renewable fuel standard in energy bills -- an all-important bit of policy to the ethanol and bio-diesel industries. There's an energy bill slated for debate this year.

n Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., sits on four committees -- Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; Armed Services; Commerce, Science and Transportation; and Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

His seat on the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry committee put him in the front row when the contentious farm bill was finished last year. While the next farm bill is years away, Thune can keep an eye on how federal agencies implement the policy Congress approved. And this past summer, he held a hearing in Rapid City about converting forest waste into ethanol.

Thune's Armed Services seat offers him the perhaps unenviable but powerful job of helping to oversee America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I have continued to maintain committee assignments that I believe make an impact on South Dakota," Thune said.

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n Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., sits on the Veterans Affairs Committee; the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee -- which oversees American Indian issues - and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

"I'm hopeful that we can build on the important strides made in the 110th Congress to improve life on our state's reservations, keep our country's promise to the men and women who have served in uniform, encourage the development and use of renewable sources of energy such as biofuels and wind, and advance policies that promote our state's rural economy," Herseth Sandlin said.

Like Thune, Herseth Sandlin can keep an eye on how the farm bill gets put into practice.

She plans to use her seat on the energy independence committee to "advocate for aggressive policies that support the development of domestic renewable energy, such as ethanol, biodiesel, and wind," according to a press release.

And she will push forward on work she began last year on the new GI Bill, using a subcommittee chairmanship under the Veterans Affairs Committee to ensure "the timely implementation of provisions of this bill."

Denise Ross publishes Hoghouseblog.com.

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