Sen. Kent Conrad may cede Budget gavel for chance to shape farm bill

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) told reporters Tuesday that he may step down as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee to take the helm of the Agriculture panel.

“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,” he said. “Those conversations are continuing.”

Conrad said the scheduled reauthorization of the farm bill would weigh on his decision.

“It’s hugely important to my state, as you can imagine,” he said.

The chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee is vacant, thanks to the defeat of Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) in last week’s elections.

Conrad is up for reelection in 2012 in a Republican-leaning state where farming is a big part of the economy.

He received a shot across the bow last week when his longtime Democratic colleague in the House, Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), lost his bid for reelection. Pomeroy had held North Dakota’s statewide House seat since 1992.

He noted that he played a major role in writing the last farm bill while he was a member of the Agriculture panel.

Conrad said his constituents are also affected by the issues under his jurisdiction as budget chairman.

“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. But we won’t be for long if we don’t deal with the underlying problem,” he said in reference to the federal government’s $1.5 trillion projected deficit for 2010.

Conrad took over as chairman of the Budget Committee in 2001 when Democrats captured control of the Senate. He regained the job in 2007 when Democrats gained the majority after losing it in 2003.

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