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Senate ag committee approves Vilsack to lead USDA

Senate ag committee approves Vilsack to lead USDA

The full Senate must now vote on the issue

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

Tom Vilsack is one step closer to reprising his role as secretary of agriculture.

The Senate ag committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to advance Vilsack’s nomination to the full Senate for a vote after his confirmation hearing.

A simple majority from the Senate will secure Vilsack’s place in President Biden’s administration.

The near three-hour hearing saw Vilsack answer questions remotely about multiple industry topics including trade, biofuels and nutrition programs.

Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) asked the first question of the proceedings.

He asked Vilsack how he would work with the U.S. Trade Representative and other trade policymakers to ensure agriculture is a priority going forward.

“I think the USDA has a responsibility of making sure there’s a close communication between the U.S. Trade Representative’s office and USDA,” Vilsack responded. “I think we need to make sure we work collaboratively with them to implement trade agreements, specifically I’m talking about USMCA.”

USDA will also be prepared to provide input on any potential trade agreements.

“I think it’s fair to say that we have work to do to make sure that we have a competitive opportunity,” Vilsack said. “Many of our competitors are engaged in free trade agreements that provide a competitive edge in many markets and we need to reduce that competitive edge.”

Vilsack fielded multiple questions on biofuels including one from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)

Sen. Klobuchar wanted to know how Vilsack would approach the issue of biofuels and small refinery exemptions granted by the previous administration.

“The way our system was designed (was) for small refineries that were having trouble and difficulty. It was not designed for large-scale refineries that are owned by Exxon and Chevron to receive a waiver,” Vilsack said. “So, I would hope, and would strongly urge the EPA, to go back to a day when those waivers are very, very, very infrequently granted.”

On nutrition programming, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) wanted to know what actions Vilsack would take to support programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to ensure families have access to food.

Engaging with state leaders on these programs is a key to their success, Vilsack said.

“The secretary of agriculture needs to work very directly with governors to make sure it is a priority of every single governor because quite frankly sometimes it’s not,” he said. “Sometimes they leave it up to their human services folks to take care of these programs. They need to be engaged, personally.”

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