A visionary Vilsack is still enthused
Just when it seems that some of President Barack Obama's Cabinet members are leaving, exhausted or frustrated, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack welcomes staying on for a second term, undaunted by the challenges of running one of the federal government's largest departments with a 12% smaller budget and a Congress still stymied over the farm bill.
In an interview with Agriculture.com Thursday, Vilsack sounded optimistic about chances to offer better service to farmers and to re-energize a rural America that is losing influence in Congress and understanding with the public. Like a latter day Horace Greeley, the former small town Iowa lawyer who became the state's governor urges young people not to go West, but rural.
"Too often the message that we convey to our young people is how difficult and challenging things are in rural America," Vilsack said, "and certainly they are, but there is unlimited future in rural America to meet the moral challenge of our time, to feed not only hungry Americans but also those who hunger around the world. It's the opportunity for us to respond to more severe weather conditions and climate change. Most of that's going to be done in rural America in terms of absorbing carbon and doing our part. It's about meeting the enormous opportunities that the biobased economy creates where we literally can make virtually everything we need in an economy -- from chemicals and fuels and energy to plastics to fibers to fabrics from what we grow, what we raise. It just opens up a whole new vista, if you will, for opportunity in rural areas."
He was planning to meet Thursday with key members of the Senate Agriculture Committee on a farm bill that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced on Monday: "The message is that we want their assistance and help, and we want to offer our assistance and help to get this done quickly," Vilsack said.
Vilsack wasn't concerned that none of the 19 co-sponsors to Reid's bill, which is understood to be a reintroduction of the Senate bill passed last year, were Republicans.
"I think at the end of the day the votes will be there, it will be a bipartisan vote, and it will be a strong vote," he said.
A TOP PRIORITY
"What Senator Reid has done is that he's basically conveyed in very strong and unconditional terms that the farm bill, the food farm and jobs bill, is priority for the Senate in the filing of the bill," Vilsack said. "I think he recognizes that there may be tweaks and changes and modifications to what was passed last year for two reasons: One you've got new members of the Senate, people with different attitudes and different views, new members who are coming to the Senate for the first time and who want to have their say in formulating a farm bill. One of them, for example, is Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota. I'm sure she has some very strong feelings about the farm bill, and she needs to be heard. And secondly, you've got a new ranking member...Senator [Thad] Cochran, who I will be meeting with today. Senator Cochran as a southern representative may have some slightly different views about aspects of the food, farm and jobs bill and out of respect to him and particularly out of respect to his long distinguished career in the Senate, people have to listen to him as well."