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Senate vote near for USDA farm subsidy and conservation chief

Three months ago, the Senate Agriculture Committee recommended Senate approval of Robert Bonnie to run the USDA’s farm subsidy and land stewardship programs, which cost more than $10 billion a year. The nomination is set for a floor vote next week, after a series of delays forced by senators who put “holds” on it.

Because of its scope, the undersecretary for farm production and conservation is arguably the most important of the eight undersecretaries, each of whom oversees a wing of USDA activity. The department’s portfolio ranges from public nutrition and international trade to ag research, meat safety, and rural economic development.

The Senate will vote next week because Majority Leader Chuck Schumer filed a cloture motion, to limit debate on Bonnie, on Nov. 3, a day before the Senate recessed for a week. When it returns on Monday, it is scheduled to vote on Graham Steele to be Treasury assistant secretary. It could then turn to Bonnie. A number of senators invoked senatorial tradition to delay, or “hold,” action on Bonnie for reasons mostly unrelated to the nominee, Arkansas Sen. John Boozman told Agri-Pulse.

A forester by training and an agriculture undersecretary during the Obama era, Bonnie joined the USDA as its first climate adviser on the same day that President Biden took office and has been at the forefront of its plans to mitigate climate change. During his confirmation hearing in July, he said that action on global warming would be voluntary, incentive-based, and locally led. “If they don’t work for producers and landowners, they’re not going to work for the climate,” he said. Some Republican senators have been leery that the Biden administration would turn to mandates to achieve its climate goals.

So far, the Senate has confirmed two Biden USDA undersecretary nominees — Xochitl Torres Small for rural economic development and Jennifer Moffitt for marketing programs. The nomination of Homer Wilkes to be undersecretary for natural resources was cleared for a floor vote on Sept. 23.

The Senate Agriculture Committee scheduled a hearing on Nov. 17 on the nomination of Chavonda Jacobs-Young to be undersecretary for research. The White House has yet to announce nominees for three undersecretary posts: public nutrition, food safety, and agricultural trade.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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