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Senate confirms Schafer as next Secretary of Ag

The U.S. Senate confirmed former North Dakota Governor Ed Schafer to be the next Secretary of Agriculture on Monday, clearing the way for him to take the reins at USDA at a critical farm policy juncture.

Schafer will assume his new role as Congress enters final negotiations toward the potential passage of an already-tardy farm bill. And, according to President George W. Bush, he'll do so immediately.

"I look forward to seeing Ed take his seat along with the rest of my Cabinet at this evening's State of the Union [address]," Bush said Monday afternoon following Senate confirmation, during which there were no objections to the North Dakotan's appointment to lead USDA.

It's critical Schafer is able to work with Congress to get the now 2008 farm bill approved and signed into law as soon as possible, something that's admittedly a tough task.

"Currently, we face a big challenge in completing a new farm bill for you to implement," said Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) during Schafer's nomination hearing on Monday.

The Bush administration has taken issue with Senate and House farm bill proposals, with Bush saying he'd veto any bill that doesn't include some sort of stronger farm subsidy payment limit. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) led an effort to include stronger payment limits in earlier negotiations, but the measure was voted down. Since then, little progress on what was to be the 2007 farm bill has taken place.

Schafer's confirmation as ag secretary will hopefully change that, Harkin said Monday.

"Unfortunately, we do not yet have the support of the President for funding the critical, forward-looking investments crafted by the Agriculture Committees and approved by the House and the Senate," he said. "We have a good deal of hard work and negotiation with the White House ahead of us on the new farm bill.Yet I am hopeful that we can approach this challenge reasonably and cooperate to reach agreements.

"Governor Schafer, we look forward to working with you, and we are counting on your help in working out differences in order to enact a sound new farm bill for our nation," Harkin added.

The U.S. Senate confirmed former North Dakota Governor Ed Schafer to be the next Secretary of Agriculture on Monday, clearing the way for him to take the reins at USDA at a critical farm policy juncture.

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