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The Associated Press

Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., took a powerful tax-writing committee seat vacated by a Vermont senator whose party switch put the Senate under Democratic control.

Republican leaders appointed Thomas to the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday. Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, vacated the seat because he is no longer Republican.

The committee has jurisdiction over all tax code issues, including tax reform, Social Security and Medicare, health care, and international trade. The committee wrote the $1.35 trillion tax relief plan signed into law by President Bush recently.

Thomas said he will use the appointment to push for a national energy plan and improvements in rural health care, Social Security and the tax code.

“Joining the Finance Committee is an extraordinary opportunity for me and for Wyoming to help shape nearly every major piece of legislation Congress will consider this year,” he said in a statement.

Thomas gave up his seat on the Foreign Relations Committee to accept the appointment because of limits on how many committees a senator can serve on.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., will fill Thomas’ spot on foreign relations, Enzi’s spokesman Coy Knobel said.

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Jeffords remains on the finance committee, only as a Democrat, Thomas’ spokesman Dan Kunsman said.

The shuffle is part of the Senate’s reorganization efforts, spurred by Jeffords, who threw the Senate to the Democrats last month when he became the Senate’s sole independent. Democrats control the Senate by a 50-49 margin.

Thomas remains a member of energy, agriculture and Indian affairs committees. Enzi remains a member of the banking committee and the committee on health, education, labor and pensions. He is likely to remain on the small business committee, Knobel said. It is unknown whether Enzi will remain on the Special Committee on Aging.

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