via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.
New Ag chef again talks about eating healthy,
and warns of budget cuts ahead
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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
-- 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
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'
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.
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retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.