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Conrad May Pursue Senate Agriculture Gavel

Sen. Kent Conrad told reporters Tuesday that he has not ruled out trading in his Budget Committee chairmanship for the Agriculture Committee gavel next year.

“I’ve got to talk to some people,” the North Dakota Democrat said when asked which committee he will chair next Congress.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow has already expressed her interest in chairing Agriculture, and she and Conrad are in talks to discuss who might wield the gavel next year, according to Senate aides.

The Michigan Democrat is the fifth-ranking Member on the committee, but the four that sit ahead of her each chair a powerful committee in the Senate. Both Conrad and Stabenow stand for re-election in 2012, and each is looking for ways to be more appealing to voters in their Midwestern states.

If Conrad does stay on Budget next year, aides said he could still hold a leading role in the 2012 reauthorization of the Farm Bill. He similarly was a lead figure during the last reauthorization in 2008. Staying at Budget would also allow Conrad to be center stage next year, when both parties will focus on deficit reduction and other economic issues he relishes. 

The top spot on Agriculture came open last week after Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) lost her re-election bid to Rep. John Boozman (R). The top Democrats on the Agriculture Committee, Sens. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Conrad and Max Baucus (Mont.), all hold prestigious chairmanships on other panels, and none is said to be interested in becoming chair of the Agriculture panel next year.

Stabenow issued a statement last week noting her extensive background on agricultural issues that makes her an attractive candidate to lead the panel. “As Michigan’s second largest industry, agriculture is critical to our economy and employs thousands of people,” she said. “With the next Farm Bill right around the corner, I am ready once again to advocate for and strengthen this critical part of our economy for Michigan and our country.”

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