The ability of Senate Democrats to get legislation passed on their own could be less than the 60 vote majority they now enjoy. That's the reality after Senators Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., announced they will not seek reelection this year. There decision makes them wild-cards for legislation slated to be brought up this year. Dorgan, a moderate, has disagreed on several issues with Democratic leadership and the White House and could be a key figure on several bills.
Dorgan has been a big supporter of renewable fuels and agriculture, and both senators have played large roles in pushing Cuba ag trade and travel bills. Dorgan has sponsored Cuba trade reform bills just about every year since 2000 when Congress passed landmark legislation to lift the embargo for food and medicine. Last month he was successful in undoing Bush era restrictions that had been kept by the Obama Administration on ag sales to Cuba through this fiscal year ending Sep. 30.
Congress still needs to pass a permanent fix to end Cuban ag trade restrictions or Farm Bureau's Mark Maslyn says it will have to continue temporary fixes in annual spending bills. He praised both senators' efforts to obtain a permanent fix icluding to permanently allow direct payments by Cuba, which under Treasury Department restrictions, must still arrange payment through third-country banks.
"The policy of an embargo against Cuba has failed," Maslyn said. "It has kept the Cuban population in poverty and has restricted the United States from accessing a market that is 90 miles off our shore that could be a huge market."
Without restrictions, Farm Bureau estimates agricultural sales to Cuba could double to almost $1 billion a year.
"We certainly owe a debt of gratitude to Senators Dodd and Dorgan," said Corn Refiners Association President Audrae Erickson. "But fortunately there are many champions that remain, not the least of which Chairman [Max] Bacus (D-Mont.) and Senator [Richard] Lugar (R-Ind.) and possibly those that replace these two important Senators."
There has been speculation that popular Republican North Dakota Governor John Hoeven could seek the seat being vacated by Dorgan. One poll had Dorgan behind in a potential match up against Hoeven by about 20 points.