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Correction to This Article
The Feb. 16 In the Loop column gave an incorrect name for the group that Scott Whitaker has joined. It is the Biotechnology Industry Organization, not the Biotechnology Industry Association.
In the Loop

Kurds Invoke Senate Rule

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, February 16, 2005; Page A17

What's good for the Kurds?

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has been talking about "going nuclear" and outlawing the Democrats' use of the filibuster to block President Bush's judicial nominees. So yesterday we find freshman Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) offering this on the floor in favor of more funds for Iraq:

Isakson, noting he had just been in Iraq, said he asked a Kurdish leader if he worried that the majority Shiites would "overrun" the minority Kurds. And "he says, 'Oh, no, we have a secret weapon.' . . . And when asked what it was, he said one word, 'filibuster,' and then proceeded to describe their study of American democracy and our republic."

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"If there were ever a reason for optimism about" giving more aid to Iraq, Isakson said, "it is one of their minority leaders proudly stating one of the pillars and principles of our government as the way they would ensure that the majority never overran the minority." The Democrats gleefully distributed his remarks.

Last month, a Frist spokesman, asked about some Republicans' reluctance to tinker with the Senate's filibuster rule, said Frist "will be having private discussions" with members about this.

Might want to chat with the new guy about staying on message.

Negroponte Here, May Be Leaving There

Speaking of Iraq . . . Ambassador to Baghdad John D. Negroponte is in town, hanging out with the Council on Foreign Relations, apparently taking a break from the Iraqi post-election infighting over plum jobs there.

Meanwhile, there's been chatter in Baghdad that Negroponte has indicated to Iraqis he is leaving in a few months and is heading to the private sector.

Farmers Bitter About Sugar Tax

The Bush administration's budget got major kudos from, of all people, enviros, for its proposals to limit farm subsidies and end agriwelfare as we know it.

But proposing is one thing, passing something to rein in the welfare kings is quite another, and the powerful farm lobbies are gearing up.

As if that gambit weren't enough, the administration also floated a hit on another cherished program, the sugar quota, proposing a 1.2 percent fee or "marketing assessment" on all sugar processors. This is expected to bring in about $43 million a year.

But while the administration speaks in terms of "fees" and assessments, Jack Roney, a staff economist for the American Sugar Alliance, did not flinch from using the dreaded T-word.

This is a "new tax on sugar farmers," Roney said, at a time when "our prices in 2004 were 11 percent down from a year ago. This is kicking sugar farmers when they're down."

The sugar program involves import quotas and marketing controls but no payments or subsidies from the government, Roney points out. So it's not as if a government expenditure is being cut.

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