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Jeffords' move significant for Supreme Court, education, taxes

WASHINGTON -- Sen. James Jeffords' switch from Republican to Independent gives control of the Senate to Democrats for the first time since 1994 and is expected to have implications on President Bush's legislative agenda.

Environmental regulations, education and the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court could all hang in the balance of the almost evenly divided Senate.

Democrats hold 50 seats, Republicans 49 and Jeffords sits in the only independent seat.

If all lawmakers vote along party lines and Jeffords gives his vote to Sen. Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, as he has indicated, a Democrat will take the post of majority leader with the ability to bring bills to the floor. Democrats will also take over as chairmen of most committees.

Jeffords' voting record shows that he frequently has voted with Democrats on high-profile issues. He supports abortion rights. Jeffords votes more often for environmental legislation and favors more education spending than many other Republicans, including President Bush.

Democrats have quietly courted Jeffords in recent weeks, offering him the chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee if he bolts the GOP, sources familiar with the discussions told The Associated Press.

Jeffords already chairs the Senate Education and Labor Committee and his relations with the White House have been strained in recent weeks because of fallout from a struggle over the senator's desire for more education funding than the Bush administration wants.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, could soon replace Jeffords as chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, and his ability to advance an increased minimum wage and a patients' bill of rights bill would be enhanced.

Jeffords should retain his seat on the powerful tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, which will have much influence over Bush's proposed $1.35 trillion across-the-board income tax cut now before Congress.

In addition, if Jeffords sides with Senate Democrats, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, would become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, giving Democrats much power over whether to approve any future Bush nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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