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Sen. Conrad may lead Agricultural Committee

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news Dickinson, 58602

Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., may leave his powerful position as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee to take the chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee.

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Conrad had indicated his intention to consider the move in conversations inside the beltway earlier in the week. The story was picked up Wednesday by Washington-based blog The Hill.

A key factor in his deliberations: the scheduled reauthorization of the federal farm bill, "hugely important to my state," he told The Hill.

During a Thursday interview with The Grand Forks Herald, Conrad said his leadership position on the Budget Committee is also "critically important" for the next farm bill to get the resources it needs.

"There's a lot to consider," he said. "In the near future, I'll decide."

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., who chairs the agriculture panel, was defeated for re-election last week. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., won his race for another term but will lose his chairmanship of the House Agriculture Committee as Republicans assume control in the House.

"I represent the state of North Dakota and I'm talking to constituents and talking to colleagues about where do people think it would be most valuable for me to be," Conrad said, according to The Hill's report. "Those conversations are continuing."

The Hill report noted that Conrad faces reelection in 2012 "in a Republican-leaning state where farming is a big part of the economy," and the defeat last week of longtime colleague Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., was "a shot across the bow."

But his work as budget chairman also affects North Dakotans, Conrad said.

"The biggest problem facing the country is this budget challenge, and my state is affected by the decisions made here, too, even though my state is in better shape than virtually any other state," he told The Hill. "But we won't be for long if we don't deal with the underlying problem," a reference to the national government's $1.5 trillion projected deficit for 2010.

Conrad, a former state tax commissioner, became Budget Committee chairman in 2001. He lost the post when Democrats lost control of the Senate following the 2002 elections but returned as chairman when Democrats regained the majority in 2007.

Conrad appeared on MSNBC and ABC news shows Thursday morning to say he hopes President Barack Obama and Congress can come to an agreement by the end of the year on passing middle class tax cuts, which probably will require extending all of the so-called Bush-era tax cuts.

Obama appeared to signal this week that he was open to compromise on the tax cuts, and Conrad told ABC News he would support that.

"I think the President's remarks are constructive," Conrad said, according to the report at ABC.com. "As you know I proposed some weeks ago that we extend all the tax cuts for a period of time until we are able to fundamentally reform the tax system. Because that is what is required in part here along with spending reductions. Both are going to have to be done if we are going to get out of this deep hole."

Conrad serves on the president's commission for deficit reduction, a bipartisan panel which came out Wednesday with a draft proposal that drew immediate fire from interest groups across the political spectrum.

The draft proposal includes tax increases and plans to cut entitlement, including social security and Medicare -- and farm subsidies, a proposal Conrad told the Herald he doesn't support because the last farm bill was fully paid for without adding to the deficit.

"That's about a 20 percent cut in commodity programs," he said. "It goes too far."

Haga and Johnson are reporters at The Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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