- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2001

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who opposes dairy price supports, is backing a temporary extension of the program in the Northeast as a favor to Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont, whose defection from the GOP in June gave control of the Senate to Democrats.

A source close to Senate Democrats said Mr. Daschle told colleagues in a private luncheon Tuesday to muffle their criticism of the Northeast Dairy Compact after Mr. Jeffords made a plea for the program's extension.

"It was a big discussion at the Democratic luncheon," a Senate aide confirmed. "Jeffords stood up and said it's a big priority of his."

A threat by the White House to end the Northeast Dairy Compact was cited by some sources as contributing to Mr. Jeffords' decision to quit the Republican Party and become an independent who votes with Democrats on organizational matters. The price supports, federal subsidies designed to help dairy farmers earn income, expire on Sept. 30. Mr. Daschle, of South Dakota, said yesterday he is trying to work out a temporary extension for the program he opposes.

He said a temporary extension of the price controls is recognition of the dilemma Mr. Jeffords and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, "are now facing: the expiration of the compact at the end of September, and no real prospect that in September we're going to resolve all of the complex questions."

"In order for Senator Jeffords and the people of the Northeast to be protected until that issue has been resolved, it would make sense to me that at least a short-term bridge would allow all people to be held harmless," Mr. Daschle said. "We're not guaranteeing in fact, I would oppose permanent extension of the Northeast Dairy Compact. I would oppose expansion of the compact. But I certainly don't oppose the right to debate and consider what ought to be done and let the Senate work its will."

Jeffords spokesman Erik Smulson said the price supports remain "a top priority for Senator Jeffords."

"He's going to do everything he can to extend it," Mr. Smulson said.

At the time of Mr. Jeffords' defection, the Senate had 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, with Vice President Richard B. Cheney to cast tie-breaking votes. The White House and Republican leaders were upset at Mr. Jeffords for not supporting the administration's full tax cut, among other issues.

Democrats rewarded Mr. Jeffords with the chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Sources who attended this week's luncheon said Mr. Jeffords told Democratic senators that Republicans are out for "a pound of flesh" from him for defecting, and that he needs Democrats' support on the dairy compact.

Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl, who opposes the price supports, told his colleagues that the issue should not be decided on partisan politics. Sens. Charles E. Schumer of New York and Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey were among those supporting Mr. Jeffords, sources said.

Sens. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, and Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, offered an amendment this week to an emergency farm spending bill that would have made the Northeast Dairy Compact permanent. But they withdrew their amendment amid partisan wrangling over the cost of the bill, and it is not clear whether Congress will complete the farm bill before leaving for its August recess.

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