- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2001

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is taking heat in his home state of South Dakota over his support for extending dairy price supports in the Northeast.
Mr. Daschle, who has opposed the Northeast Dairy Compact because it creates unfair competition for South Dakota dairy farmers, nevertheless has indicated his willingness to extend at least temporarily the deal to benefit farmers in six Northeastern states.
"It definitely hurts the farmers in the Midwest," said Tom Brunner, a dairy farmer and Republican in Butte County, S.D. "I wish he would represent us for a change. It seems like Senator Daschle remembers us one year out of six."
The compact is set to expire Sept. 30, and its renewal is being promoted hard by Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont, whose defection from the Republican Party to become an independent this summer made Mr. Daschle the majority leader. Mr. Daschle has said he wants to help Mr. Jeffords and Vermont's other senator, Democrat Patrick J. Leahy.
But that isn't sitting well with some South Dakota farmers who say the Senate Democratic leader is compromising his "South Dakota First" agenda.
"It's time for him to take a stand for South Dakota on principle, not politics," said Walt Bones III, president of the Turner County Dairy. "By limiting markets and boosting production, this will affect South Dakota dairies where it hurts most — in the pocketbook."
The dispute also has given South Dakota Republicans a rare issue with which to attack the popular Mr. Daschle, who won re-election in 1998 with a comfortable 62 percent of the vote.
"As majority leader, Daschle's control of the Senate's agenda gives him the opportunity to assure the expiration of this compact," said state Republican spokeswoman Laura Schoen. "However, Washington back-scratching and favor-trading now seem to be the guiding principle."
Mr. Daschle tried to work out an extension of the dairy compact before Congress left town for its August recess. Since Congress returned last week, there has been no progress reported on the issue.
Mr. Bones acknowledged that renewing a price floor only for milk from Northeastern dairies would not hurt his 1,600-head operation immediately, because milk prices are fairly high, about $17 per 100 pounds.
"My biggest concern is, if it gets renewed, it'll give a precedent for the Southeastern farmers," he said. "It'll give the green light [for other regions]. If these things are so good, why not have one nationwide compact?"
During Senate debate to approve the compact in November 1999, Mr. Daschle outlined his opposition to government price controls for one region of the dairy industry.
"I do not support the Northeast Dairy Compact," Mr. Daschle said. "I do not believe it is good economic policy. We must revisit this question. We must find a way by which to assure that all views are taken into account, and all sections of the country are treated fairly."
Congress authorized the Northeast Dairy Compact in 1996, giving New England states the authority to create a regional dairy agreement. Federal lawmakers extended it in 1999 for two years.
Under the law, an interstate commission sets a minimum price paid by dairy processors to dairy farmers in the six New England states at a level above the federal minimum price.
Congressional approval is pending to allow Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York to join the Northeast Dairy Compact. Three other regional dairy compacts are awaiting congressional approval: a 14-state Southern compact including Virginia and West Virginia; a Pacific Northwest compact for California, Washington and Oregon; and an intermountain compact for Colorado, Nevada and Utah.
Among the Senate's most vocal opponents of dairy compacts are Sens. Herb Kohl and Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrats. Mr. Kohl has called the deal a "cartel," and Mr. Feingold said it "wildly distorts the marketplace by erecting artificial barriers."


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