Roberts misses two-thirds of ag committee meetings since 2000

Roberts misses two-thirds of ag committee meetings since 2000

Tim Carpenter
The Topeka Capital-Journal

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts attended slightly more than one-third of Senate Agriculture Committee meetings during the past 15 years of his political career in Washington, D.C, federal records showed Monday.

The three-term Republican from Dodge City serves on the committee responsible for farm, nutrition and forestry issues, as well as Senate committees devoted to health, education, labor and finance topics.

Documents related to committee attendance available from the U.S. Government Printing Office showed Roberts was present for 35.5 percent, or 71 of 201, of the agriculture committee's sessions from 2000 to 2014.

Roberts has emphasized endorsements among farm, crop and livestock organizations in Kansas during the re-election campaign against Greg Orman, an independent candidate and Johnson County businessman.

"Pat Roberts is a tireless warrior for Kansas agriculture," said Corry Bliss, Roberts' campaign manager. "Kansas farmers and ranchers have no greater friend that Pat Roberts."

Jim Jonas, who is managing Orman's campaign, said the statistical summary on agriculture committee attendance indicated Roberts was among career politicians who neglected work expected of them by constituents.

"It's bad enough that Sen. Roberts doesn't live in Kansas and barely visits, but the fact that he isn't even showing up for the job Kansans are paying him to do in Washington, D.C. — where he lives — shows that Sen. Roberts has forgotten the people of Kansas and is failing to represent their interests," Jonas said.

Jonas was making reference to controversy raised by Republican primary opponent Milton Wolf that Roberts lived more or less full time in Alexandria, Va., and rented out his Dodge City home. Roberts, who is registered to vote in Ford County, does pay rent on space in the residence of a Dodge City supporter.

Bliss' response: "Greg Orman is once again trying to mislead Kansas voters and distract folks looking into his liberal, dishonest record."

Roberts was chairman of the House Agriculture Committee before his election to the U.S. Senate in 1996.

He had the option of chairing the Senate Agriculture Committee, but he chose to head the Senate Intelligence Committee. The panel was embroiled in an inquiry of intelligence failures before the 2003 invasion of Iraq and a partisan conflict regarding President George W. Bush's wartime decisions.

Roberts returned to the Senate's agriculture committee in 2011, but seniority rules kept him from leading that panel.

In January, Roberts attracted attention by voting against a $1.1 trillion appropriations bill containing $400 million for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility under construction at Kansas State University. The legislation passed the House and Senate by wide margins.

On the campaign trail, Roberts has touted his support of the $1.25 billion facility in Manhattan designed for high-security research on infectious animal diseases.

Orman campaign spokesman Sam Edelen said Roberts needed to clarify his position "because back here in Kansas you can't get away with talking out of both sides of your mouth."

During the past 15 years, Roberts missed a 2008 ag committee hearing on financial derivatives as it related to the financial crisis on the same day the U.S. Department of Treasury announced the Troubled Asset Relief Program had purchased $250 billion in capital from U.S. financial institutions.

He skipped the committee's hearings on avian flu in 2005 and 2006. He did author a newspaper editorial in 2005 explaining why he was taking "the threat of the bird flu very seriously."

In 2002, Roberts was absent for the hearing on drought at the same time the Kansas Geological Survey reported southwest Kansas was suffering conditions "more severe than the peak year of the Dust Bowl."

Roberts wasn’t present in 2002 and 2008 when the agriculture committee conducted hearings on disaster assistance.

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