Leahy Asks VT Senate to Amend Dairy Compact Resolution

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(Host) A Vermont House resolution that calls on Congress to reauthorize the Northeast Dairy Compact has raised concerns among the congressional delegation in Washington. The House last week overwhelmingly passed a resolution. It says that the Compact’s system of regional pricing is the best way to help dairy farmers. But staff for Senator Patrick Leahy in Washington are concerned the resolution could upset negotiations now taking place on the federal Farm Bill.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Resolutions from the Vermont Statehouse rarely cause a ripple effect in Washington.

But the House vote last week on the dairy compact resolution worries staff for Senator Patrick Leahy. The House voted 138 to 2 in favor of a resolution that calls on Congress to reauthorize the compact, which expired in September.

The problem, says Leahy’s Chief of Staff Luke Albee, is that there just aren’t enough votes to pass the compact. Leahy instead is trying to get a $2 billion milk subsidy plan put into the Farm Bill. Albee says the House resolution sends a mixed message to the Senate negotiators:

(Albee) “We want to remain unified and to remain speaking with one voice. And to the extent that the resolution could be read by some as undermining the position that the Senate is going into the conference with, I think we would view it as not helpful to the cause.”

(Dillon) After the resolution passed the House, it was referred to the Senate Agriculture Committee. Leahy’s staff have asked senators to tone down the resolution.

Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin says he’s inclined to go along with Leahy’s request:

(Shumlin) “I’m going to encourage the Agriculture Committee to be certain that Vermont farmers support this resolution before they just dance it out on the floor and pass, because this could really have significant consequences in terms of sending a message to Washington that it’s our way or the highway.”

(Dillon) The resolution was drafted by North Troy Democrat Bobby Starr, who pushed the compact through the Vermont Legislature in the 1980s. Starr says the resolution came out of a joint House-Senate hearing in January, where everyone who testified said they supported the compact rather than a government subsidy program.

Starr says the compact doesn’t cost the government anything. And he says rather than undermine Leahy, the resolution should strengthen his hand in Washington:

(Starr) “You know, I think that it’s pretty sad to think that one chamber passed the resolution 130 odd to 2 and then the senator gets mixed into it and tries to kill it. And it’s something that should be helping his cause and not causing him any grief.”

(Dillon) Senator Sarah Kittell, the Franklin County Democrat who chairs of the Senate Agriculture Committee, says she wants to pass the resolution. She says the Committee will probably make some minor changes to indicate support for the subsidy system as a temporary stop-gap measure. But she agrees with Starr that everyone who testified before her committee in January supported the Dairy Compact.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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