The Senate on Feb. 23 voted 92-7 to confirm Vilsack as the nation’s Secretary of Agriculture, giving the former Iowa governor a chance to make good on pledges to address racial equity, coronavirus recovery and the intersection of climate and farm policy in another term at the helm of USDA.
"American farmers, families, and rural communities need strong effective leadership now more than ever, and when it comes to strengthening our food and farm economy, I am very confident that soon-to-be-confirmed Secretary Tom Vilsack is more than up to the task," Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said on the Senate floor advance of the vote on Feb. 23. "He has a proven track record and will embrace new ideas in a new era at the department."
Sen. John Boozman, the top Republican on the Senate Ag Committee, voiced his support for Vilsack’s nomination in a floor speech Tuesday that also highlighted the regional farm policy concerns that will face the new ag secretary.
“The Secretary must ensure that this administration works with producers of all regions and all commodities, and that the department does not make the hard work of farmers and ranchers more difficult by throwing up obstacles as opposed to opening doors of opportunity,” Boozman, R-Ark. said.
Vilsack first served in the position during nearly all eight years of the Obama administration; he was confirmed on Inauguration Day in 2009 and resigned one week before the 2017 inauguration.
Vilsack’s nomination for another term was met with disdain by many who were critical of USDA’s civil rights record during his Obama administration tenure.
During his confirmation process, Vilsack was adamant that he would address any potential discriminatory practices by USDA, telling the Senate Ag Committee during his confirmation that it was time to "fully, deeply and completely address the long-standing inequities, unfairness and discrimination that has been the history of USDA programs for far too long.”
Vilsack has also pledged to explore using USDA funds to pay farmers for climate-friendly practices, saying the Commodity Credit Corp. is “a great too for us to create the kind of structure that will inform future farm bills about what will encourage carbon sequestration.”
Vilsack will also be charged with examining a frozen round of Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments, which were authorized by Congress in a December omnibus and COVID-19 relief package. The Biden administration held up the payments — $20 per acre for row crop producers as well as assistance for livestock and poultry farmers forced to depopulate their herds or flocks — as part of a regulatory freeze shortly after taking office.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, one of two Republicans representing Vilsack’s home state of Iowa in the Senate, voiced his support for Vilsack’s nomination in a floor speech Feb. 22 ahead of the vote.
“Mr. Vilsack is the right person for this job,” Grassley said. “I know that Secretary Vilsack will continue to work for family farmers and spotlight these farmers’ contribution to agriculture and what agriculture does for society as a whole.”
It is not clear at this time when Vilsack plans to be sworn in and officially rejoin the department.
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