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Possible Change at Top of Senate Ag Committee

Several committee leadership assignments could change as result of Kennedy's death.

Senator Edward Kennedy's death after a long battle with brain cancer sets off a series of changes in the Senate including a possible change at the helm of the Agriculture Committee.


Kennedy's passing opens up the chairmanship of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee. That could be filled by Senator Chris Dodd, D-Conn., if Dodd gives up his Banking Panel chairmanship. But American Farm Bureau spokesman Mace Thornton says that's a big if.


"There is conjecture that Senator Dodd would not want to give up the Banking Committee responsibilities to take over Senator Kennedy's committee," Thornton said. "If that is the case then naturally that next person in line would be Senator Harkin who is chair of the Senate Ag Committee."


Thornton says Harkin's always been committed to agriculture but also has a keen interest in health issues. Should Harkin switch to chair Health, Thornton says under one scenario Senator Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., could succeed Harkin.


"It has been pointed out that there are a number of people in front of her for that duty including Senator Conrad from North Dakota, Senator Baucus from Montana, or Senator Leahy from Vermont," Thornton said. "But they all chair major committees already and there is some belief that they would not move to Agriculture."


Thornton says a change from Midwesterner Harkin to Southerner Lincoln heading the Agriculture Committee could at least mean a change in the Ag Committee's agenda on everything from crops to climate change.


"Any time you're talking about policy in agriculture it always seems to boil down to regional type issues," Thornton said. "If the move, the change were to be made between Senator Harkin and Senator Lincoln, then one would think that would have some impact on at least the agenda and how and how the Senate Agriculture Committee would handle things."


Lincoln has taken a more cautious approach to climate change legislation lately, which could take a bigger toll on her state's more energy-intensive crops like rice and cotton. The question now is how quickly committee changes will come. The Senate returns Sept. 8 and decisions could be made between now and then or take longer.

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