By Alan Bjerga, Copyright 2013 Bloomberg
Tom Vilsack will stay on as head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture during President Barack Obama’s second term, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified before an announcement.
The former Iowa governor faces a difficult agenda, as farmers are still grappling with the worst drought since the 1930s. Vilsack will also continue to lobby Congress to pass a new five-year farm bill. The previous legislation has been extended to September 30 after expiring last year. Farm bills guide U.S. agriculture policy and authorize spending for USDA programs including food stamps and crop subsidies.
During his first four years in office, Vilsack, 62, pushed for expanded export markets as U.S. farmers earned near record profits and enjoyed the highest land values ever. Should he serve until 2017, Vilsack would be the first person to head the Department of Agriculture for two terms since Orville Freeman led the agency under presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s.
"The president would like him to continue to serve," Matt Paul, the USDA’s communication’s director, said today in an e- mail.
Agriculture "hasn’t been an area the president has had to worry about a lot in the past few years" thanks to farm-sector prosperity, Mark McMinimy, an analyst at Guggenheim Washington Research Group in Washington, said in an interview. Vilsack "has done enough to earn a second term," he said.
The USDA has a budget of about $150 billion and is the third-biggest cabinet agency in spending after Defense and Health and Human Services. Food stamps for needy families account for about half of the department’s spending, with the remainder taken up by other nutrition programs and subsidies for farmers such as insurance for crops including corn, wheat and cotton.
Vilsack was elected as Iowa’s governor in 1998, the first Democrat to win the office in 32 years. He was re-elected in 2002. His wife, Christie Vilsack, unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. House of Representatives seat held by Republican Steve King of Iowa in last year’s campaigns.
In a brief bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Vilsack offered his life story as an example of overcoming adversity to rise to high public office. The Pittsburgh native was orphaned at birth and adopted from a Catholic orphanage. He moved to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, his wife’s hometown, to practice law and raise their two sons.
He was elected the town’s mayor in 1987 after a disgruntled citizen murdered the previous mayor.
--Editors: Daniel Enoch, Jon Morgan