Senate switch creates new ag chair

WASHINGTON – Sen. James Jeffords’ decision to leave the Republican Party and become an independent has one profound implication for agriculture. It almost certainly puts Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, in the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Harkin may steer the farm bill debate in a different direction than under the chairmanship of Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who now steps aside.

Harkin is not a fan of the 1996 “Freedom to Farm” law. And his latest action in the farm policy arena is a just-reintroduced bill to pay farmers for practicing conservation.

On several occasions this year he has urged President Bush to deny California’s request for a waiver from the oxygenate requirement of the reformulated gasoline program, and he repeatedly has urged more support for farm income.

Daschle important, too.

Of almost equal importance to agriculture, Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., becomes majority leader, giving Democrats control of the Senate agenda, not only for floor debate but also in the committees, under the leadership of a farm policy advocate (Daschle) who shares many of Harkin’s views.

Compact ramifications?

There have been rumors that the Bush administration may pay Jeffords back for bolting the party by opposing legislation to renew the Northeast Dairy Compact, a milk-pricing agreement Jeffords has championed along with his Vermont colleague Sen. Patrick Leahy.

However, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. who steps aside as majority leader, is from a state that could become part of a new southern dairy compact, and Lott’s clout should remain considerable should he actively support the creation of the new compact, also included in the legislation to renew the northeast compact.

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