WASHINGTON— U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), incoming Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry—along with top committee Democrat and incoming Chairwoman Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)—held a hearing on the nomination of Thomas Vilsack to serve as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
Boozman stressed the necessity for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to prioritize cooperating with the committee and Congress, and to focus on the impact that proposed policies will have on our ag community.
Click here to watch Boozman’s opening statement
The following are Boozman’s opening remarks, as prepared, from the hearing:
“Good morning. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry will come to order.
Today, the committee will be hearing from former Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack, President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture.
Secretary Vilsack, you are certainly no stranger to this committee or to the department you have been nominated to lead, having served as Secretary of Agriculture from 2009 to 2017 under the Obama Administration.
You have an excellent reputation. We look forward to working with you in the future. I have enjoyed working with you in the past and look forward to strengthening that relationship as we do good work, in a very bipartisan nature on this committee, to help our agricultural community.
Before I begin with my opening remarks though, I would like to take a minute to state for the record that this hearing is a bit different than we are used to attending in the past. The Senate has not passed—it’s on the verge—but it has not passed a resolution that allows for the committees of the Senate to organize. Thus, the committee has no official Chairman at the moment, with the retirement of Senator Pat Roberts in 2020. You will see that neither of us, Senator Stabenow nor I, are sitting in the Chairman’s seat. We hold this hearing as equal partners today.
Senator Stabenow and I have agreed to hold this hearing today to get moving so that we can get the Secretary confirmed quickly to address the pressing matters of sending economic relief to those affected by the ongoing pandemic. This hearing shall not create any precedent as to a how hearings or markups shall be announced and held when the Chairman or Ranking Member are not officially appointed by the Senate. Senator Stabenow and I will share in the responsibilities of holding this hearing today, and later to consider the nomination with a vote by the committee.
It is my understanding that you have agreed to return to the committee in four to six weeks after arriving at the department to give us more time to discuss your priorities and early activities, since we are moving your nomination very quickly. We look forward to that discussion. With that explanation, Mr. Secretary, I welcome you to the committee.
And, I would note that the committee has received a number of letters in support of your nomination. I ask consent to include these letters of support into the hearing record.
During your tenure as President Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture, the state of agriculture was affected by a number of issues and events. These included the Great Recession, which left far too many of our fellow Americans hungry and in need of USDA food assistance; a U.S. economy where agriculture was one of the only bright spots, with strong prices and exports; and implementation of the 2008 and 2014 farm bills. As your second term came to a close, however, the ag economy started to dip, which has led to seven years of depressed prices and difficult times in farm country. And today, we find many more Americans experiencing hunger from the effects of the pandemic.
I was grateful that Congress and the department responded to these situations with trade mitigation assistance, disaster assistance, and pandemic assistance programs. Without it, I fear we would have seen even more farm bankruptcies, leading to less available food for our nation.
I’m a strong believer that past performance is indicative of future performance, Mr. Secretary, and I know you will work with us as you did during your previous tenure.
As everyone in this room knows, agriculture is not partisan, but there are regional differences. I was pleased to see that in your previous tenure, you took the time to learn about and understand southern agriculture. I hope that if you are confirmed, you will continue with the same attitude without the various regions and commodities.
With that said, I would like to raise a few issues that need to be addressed by the incoming Secretary of Agriculture. I am concerned with some ideas being discussed in the environmental space. If confirmed, I would expect you to work with your colleagues at EPA to educate them on the strides that production agriculture has already taken to be more efficient and environmentally friendly. As we all know, agriculture ought to be part of the solution, not considered the problem.
The president has announced climate change policy will be a priority for this administration. It is important that USDA and this committee keep producers at the forefront of any discussion on climate change. Heavy-handed, one-size-fits-all regulations simply will not work. Just as in a farm bill debate, this issue must be addressed in a fashion that will truly benefit all farmers across the country without mandating specific farming practices.
In Arkansas, our farmers have been conserving water by implementing innovative irrigation techniques, converting to surface water irrigation, rather than pumping groundwater from the aquifer.
Farmers have also improved soil health with cover cropping and minimum tillage while our ranchers have taken on rotational grazing. These efforts should not be ignored during the policy debate on climate change.
Trade is another issue where your strong voice is needed. I urge you to play an active role in any trade discussions. American agriculture has borne the brunt of trade disputes in the past few years. Prior to that, our farmers and ranchers were competing with foreign governments that did not play by the rules then, and that often do not play by the rules today. Our producers need new markets with more market access, and I hope you will continue to be an advocate in this area.
We are all aware of the impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our society. We learned our supply chain is both more fragile and resilient than we thought. The supply chain didn’t break, but the marketplace was certainly very challenging. We need to consider options to make the supply chain even more resilient.
In the future, we need to have the ability to respond to these types of black swan events. Unfortunately, we must assume that it is not a question of if another pandemic will occur, but rather when.
With the latest package of COVID relief signed into law in December, it is imperative that the CFAP assistance gets to those most in need. The Biden Administration has announced a 60-day review of some of this assistance while advocating for an additional $1.9 trillion to be passed by Congress. It seems to me that time is of the essence and the department should move swiftly to deliver the much-needed assistance that has already been provided. I encourage you to carry out this review quickly, consistent with the clear direction in the law. It is imperative to deliver this assistance as those who are struggling with this pandemic are well served now instead of later.
Again, thank you for joining us today. I look forward to hearing from you and working with you, if confirmed.
Now, I will yield to Senator Stabenow for her opening remarks.”