Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Highlights from Vilsack Senate confirmation hearing

This morning, I was among a presumably small number of people huddled around our computer screens or speakers, observing the Senate Agriculture Committee's hearing of Obama's Agriculture Secretary Nominee, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack. Committee Chair Senator Harkin released this statement about the nomination. The archived webcast of the hearing is available here.

Although I only watched half of the hearing, the Senators covered many of the controversial topics in food and agriculture policy, ranging from organic standards to domestic and global hunger, trade liberalization, crop insurance, forestry and of course commodity payments. If you have never watched a confirmation hearing, as I hadn't, it feels remarkably like being a fly on the wall of a job interview. Vilsack drew on examples from his past positions to illustrate his commitments to farmers of all sorts, rural development issues, action against hunger and experiences addressing civil rights concerns in government.

As expected, Vilsack sailed through the hearing, which included substantial mutual back-scratching and compliments to the Committee on its work passing the 2008 farm bill, despite the many obstacles to doing so.

Some highlights included Vilsack's encouragement of locally grown fruits and vegetables and pronouncement that they should be grown not just in rural areas, but everywhere. He announced that he met with Health and Human Services nominee Tom Daschle last week in order to demonstrate the importance of working together for nutrition.“It’s going to be important for us to promote fresh fruits and vegetables as part of our children’s diets. . .that means supporting those who supply those products” and making it easier for consumers to buy locally grown products, Vilsack said. And there was Senator Pat Roberts' contrasting descriptions of local, organic farmers who sell apples "with a little extra protein" at farmers markets in "the county seat," with "real" farmers involved in production agriculture, as he proclaimed that the latter group are the ones actually supplying America's food.

It is expected that Vilsack will be confirmed easily by the full Senate as early as next Tuesday as soon as Obama is sworn in as President and officially nominates his Cabinet. You may wonder, as my roommate did, how the Senate can hold hearings for administration appointees before President-elect Obama has officially nominated them. From my small amount of research, it seems that this entire process is going more quickly than in previous transitions, with the hope that the new Administration will be in a better position to tackle the myriad problems with which they will be confronted on Day 1 if these appointees can be confirmed immediately. Some Republicans in Congress have expressed frustration at the unprecedented speed with which the administration-elect is proceeding through the nomination and vetting process; I imagine that if Congress were controlled by the opposite party, even the bipartisan spirit supposedly sweeping Washington would not be enough to enable things to proceed this quickly.

1 comment:

Ashley Colpaart said...

Thanks Alisa. You beat me to the punch on this one. We appropriately watched the Vislack confirmation hearing in Kathleen and Tim’s Agriculture, Science and Policy class this morning.

Characteristically, Harkin spoke about his pet projects and the importance of work on the timely Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which he clarified, is the only thing that MUST be done this year. The CNR includes WIC, National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, Summer Food Service Program, Farmers Market Nutrition Program, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, and the Special Milk Program. It also accounts for 60% of the USDA’s budget. He also made a hit against competitive foods in school that work against the nutrition efforts of such programs at the expense of tax payers.

I think Vislack did a nice job of being ambiguous enough to cater to all the Sentator’s questions. He will due well at the job, presuming he can widen his scope from mid-west agriculture, biofuels and biosciences enough to acknowledge the grass root food system changes taking place in this country.

I was excited to hear the mention of organic agriculture and the need for stringent oversight of the USDA label.

Did anyone else hear Vislack call soil dirt? Faux pas?

Jill Richardson had some nice coverage at La Vida Locavore.