Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a former Ag Committee chair who played pivotal roles in the development of dairy and conservation policy and the first national standards for organic food, won't seek re-election to a ninth Senate term in 2022.
“It’s time to put down the gavel,” the Vermont Democrat and 46-year member of the Senate said Monday in Montpelier. “It’s time to come home.”
Leahy will retire as the most senior member of the Senate after first being elected in 1974 and the fifth-longest serving senator in U.S. history.
He chaired the Senate Ag Committee from 1987 to 1995 and emerged as a stalwart on and nutrition issues as well as conservation programs, dairy policy and organic agriculture.
He put provisions in the 1990 farm bill to require USDA to establish the National Organic Program, which now regulates the industry.
He would later play a key role in passage of the 1996 farm bill and creation of the highly popular Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which subsidizes the cost of equipment and practices that conserve soil and water and protect air and water quality.
The 1996 "Freedom to Farm" bill scrapped Depression-era commodity price supports and production controls and replaced them with fixed direct farm payments that were supposed to phase out over time.
Leahy undercut some fellow Democratic senators, including then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and supported the final version of the GOP bill in exchange for getting his priorities enacted, including creation of a Northeast dairy compact intended to shore up dairy farmer incomes in his region.
"The contrast between Senator Daschle's and Senator Leahy's beliefs and constituencies set up the most dramatic conflict of the entire farm bill chronicle," according to the book, "The Making of the 1996 Farm Act." "When Senator Leahy offered an alternative, Republican senators abandoned a compromise with Senator Daschle and his Senate colleagues."
Leahy was the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee in early 2018 when he was involved in a pivotal moment in dairy policy. The panel took advantage of a quirk in congressional rules to use a spending bill to create $1.2 billion in new funding for farm bill dairy programs.
Leahy's campaign bio notes that he "has long led on dairy policy. He has authored several key conservation programs that have helped forge working partnerships between farmers and vital environmental and conservation goals, drawing from Vermont’s experience and ethic of environmental stewardship.
"He is the 'father' of the highly successful national organic standards and labeling program, and the Leahy charter for U.S. organic agriculture has helped the organic sector thrive to become a $39 billion-a-year sector of the American economy."
Leahy also chaired the Judiciary Committee during his Senate tenure.
He is currently the president pro tempore of the Senate, a position traditionally reserved for the senior-most member of the majority party.
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