Vilsack Addresses USDA Employees

January 22, 2009 06:00 PM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

New Ag chef again talks about eating healthy, and warns of budget cuts ahead

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

-- Vilsack addresses USDA employees. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack addressed USDA employees Thursday and kept up his push for getting Americans to eat healthy. That was one of the areas he focused on during his confirmation hearing, when he said he would actively work with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other agencies on this topic.

Vilsack warned USDA employees about future budget cuts. During his Thursday address to USDA workers, Vilsack noted that budget cutting would eventually arrive at USDA, but he offered no details on what actions might be taken.

Comments: Vilsack is already trying to carve out a niche in the food policy arena. That will be interesting to see unfold because this matter cuts across several agencies and political interests. The coming subcabinet positions at USDA will also be noted for how aggressive the selections are in the food policy area.

-- Return to effective PayGo rules? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she favored reinstating pay-as-you-go (PayGo) rules in law, after they were allowed to lapse in 2002, as one way of dealing with the long-term projected deficits created by federal health and entitlement programs. Facing a projected $1.2 trillion budget deficit for the current 2009 Fiscal Year, even before Congress takes up an economic stimulus package with an approximately $825 billion two-year price tag, anti-deficit House Democrats known as Blue Dogs want a pledge and solid proof of deficit reduction plans before they vote for the economic package.

Comments: I will believe Congress is serious about deficit reduction only when I see the bulging deficit go down, not with promises of plans to accomplish that task. There frequently are too many loopholes in deficit-reduction programs like PayGo.

-- Vilsack sees need for better communications with Congress. Vilsack said that USDA needs to do a better job communicating with members of Congress, especially when there is uncertainty over what lawmakers want after laws are passed. "If intent is unclear or we're uncertain about what the intent is then we need to reach out" to Congress, Vilsack said. He vowed to try to "build relationships" but acknowledged he has "a lot to learn about dealing with Congress."

Comments: A word of advise to Vilsack: listen to the career people in your oversized department, they mostly know what they are talking about and can help you avoid time-consuming and costly mistakes, but only if you listen to them. Also, make sure the ideologues in the White House don't make too many of the decisions for you.

-- Update on Obama administration nominations. The Senate confirmed six more Obama administration appointees Thursday night, including the ambassador to the United Nations and head of the Environmental Protection Agency EPA). Each of the nominees was approved by unanimous consent.

Transportation: Ray LaHood officially joined the Obama Cabinet as secretary of Transportation – he assured lawmakers that he will move quickly to finalize new corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, requirements that were proposed but not finalized by the Bush administration.

SEC: Also, the Senate confirmed Mary Schapiro to head the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by a unanimous vote. Schapiro promised to take the “handcuffs off” the SEC's enforcement division and go full force against anyone who violates investors' trust.

Geithner wins Senate panel approval; comments on China currency. Tim Geithner won Senate Finance Committee backing on Thursday, with an 18-5 vote in his favor despite a past episode of tax underpayments. All five “no” votes came from Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he expected the full Senate to confirm Geithner and plans to hold a vote on Monday.

Geithner on TARP and China's currency: In written answers to questions from Finance members, Geithner said as a condition of assistance under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), healthy banks without major capital shortfalls would increase their lending above baseline levels. In addition, those that receive government investments would be required to provide information on their lending patterns broken down by category. Geithner also wrote that while President Barack Obama believes that China is manipulating its currency, the immediate goal should be convincing China to adopt a more aggressive stimulus package. An administration official said that Geithner was only repeating what Obama had said during the campaign, and pointed out that his statement also emphasized that the president intended to use “all the diplomatic avenues available to him” to address the currency question.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


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