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USDA will create 300,000 new jobs, Harkin says

01/23/2009 @ 11:14am

A list of spending proposals that the new Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked his staff to pull together could create 300,000 jobs, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) told reporters Friday after getting the list from Vilsack.

With the economy shedding an average of 17,000 jobs a day, that's crucial, said Harkin, who is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee as well as serving on the Appropriations Committee, which is putting together the details of an economic stimulus package.

Harkin said he and other members of the Democratic Policy Committee met Thursday with economic advisers to former presidents Reagan and Clinton and presidential candidate John McCain. In spite of philosophical differences over government economic policy, they all agreed on the need for speedy intervention in the current recession, Harkin said.

"They all painted a very bleak picture of where our economy is and where it might be headed unless we do some very intense job creation," Harkin said.

Much of the spending from USDA would be through its Rural Development agency to build rural housing, improve small town sewer and water systems and to develop wind energy and fuel from biomass, Harkin said.

Harkin said he doesn't expect changes to USDA's commodity programs, but that agriculture should benefit from help for the biofuels industry. "That's where we really have to look right now, is the longer term in agriculture," he said.

Harkin said there will also be increased spending for conservation programs.

"I still think that one of the best things we can do to prevent flooding is to move upstream," said Harkin, who favors more spending on grassed waterways and other structures that slow rainwater runoff.

On the Senate Appropriations Committee, Harkin chairs the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies.

Among the projects that subcommittee is proposing will be making schools more energy efficient and spending $5.8 billion toe fight preventable diseases. The health project will hire temporary workers to promote immunization, for example. "We'll be creating community-based jobs that keep people healthy, so you get a two-fer," Harkin said. More jobs. Less spending on health care.

A list of spending proposals that the new Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked his staff to pull together could create 300,000 jobs, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) told reporters Friday after getting the list from Vilsack.