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Harkin, other Iowans in Congress welcome Vilsack

Agriculture.com Staff 12/18/2008 @ 8:14am

Not since 1909, has the state of Iowa had a chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a U.S. secretary of agriculture at the same time.

Almost a century later, it has happened again.

But that's not the main reason the current Ag Committee Chairman, Senator Tom Harkin, is pleased to see former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack picked to head the USDA.

"I'm just ecstatic. He couldn't have picked a better person," Harkin told Agriculture Online Wednesday. "He just has the right ethics and inner spirit about agriculture that we need at this time."

As a lawyer, Vilsack represented struggling farmers during the debt crisis of the 1980s, Harkin said, so he appreciates the importance of family farmers. And he supports rural development. "He comes from a small town and he knows what that’s about," he added.

His support for renewable energy is well known. But Harkin says that Vilsack also shares his own interest in moving farm programs toward those that will reward farmers more for being good stewards of the environment. Vilsack was governor when Harkin got the Conservation Security Program into the 2002 farm bill.

"I've talked to Tom many times about these things," Harkin said.

Harkin said that after press reports appeared yesterday that Vilsack was President-elect Barack Obama's choice for Agriculture Secretary, he called the governor.

Harkin had been upset that at one point Vilsack appeared to be out of the running for agriculture secretary. "I believe he was a serious contender all along," Harkin said Wednesday.

Harkin was concerned about the delay in announcing an ag secretary and a week ago expressed frustration during a press conference. After that, Harkin, said Wednesday, he continued to urge the Obama team to pick Vilsack.

"Being fair about it, they were putting their economic team together. I can't fault them for that. But a lot of us feel that agriculture is economic development, too," Harkin said Wednesday.

Now, Harkin is looking forward to how he and Vilsack can work together to bring that development to agriculture and rural America.

Harkin's enthusiasm was shared by his Republican Colleague in the Senate, Chuck Grassley, over another issue important to both Iowa senators -- enforcement of payment limits in the 2008 farm bill. They're not as low as the two wanted, but Grassley said Wednesday that regardless of who is ag secretary, he expects the Obama administration to enforce the new limits.

"I believe that you're going to find more aggressive action of enforcing laws and making sure that congressional intent is followed, particularly in the area where we haven't had enforcement of people who make too much money taking advantage of the farm program," Grassley told Agriculture Online.

Vilsack got warm congratulations from other members of the Iowa congressional delegation, including two who are members of the House Agriculture Committee.

"Tom is a thoughtful and forward-thinking leader," Representative Leonard Boswell, a Democrat, said in a statement. "In Iowa, he pioneered much of our progress in wind and other renewable energies. Tom's also been a strong advocate of nutrition programs and rural development. I'm pleased that Tom will play an active role in shaping the future of our great nation, and look forward to working with him. Not since Henry A. Wallace have we had an Agriculture Secretary from Iowa. His nomination is good for Iowa, and the country."

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