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USDA nominee Vilsack impresses lawmakers

U. S. Senator Herb Kohl on Jan. 7 said he was impressed with Tom Vilsack, president-elect Barack Obama’s choice to head the U. S. Agriculture Department, and expected the former Iowa governor to be confirmed easily by the Senate.

“I’m confident this will be a man who will do his job very well,” Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat, told reporters after talking with Vilsack. “He talked about how important it was to see that farmers are given the opportunity to be successful.”

The meeting was one of several Capitol Hill visits made by Vilsack, a two-term governor who stands to be the first Iowan to lead USDA since Henry Wallace during the Depression era.

Kohl, head of the Senate agriculture appropriations subcommittee, said he discussed dairy, food safety, nutrition and other issues with Vilsack. Vilsack declined to comment after the meeting.

The Senate agriculture committee, led by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, was scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing Jan. 14 on Vilsack’s nomination.

Harkin said in an interview Vilsack has a “good feel for agriculture” and he expected “a smooth hearing.” Vilsack probably will be asked about renewing the child nutri -tion program which protects U. S. farmer revenue from low prices and poor yields, and about land stewardship, Harkin said.

Obama has supported further reform in the farm program, including a US$250,000-a-year cap on payments and an end to loopholes that allow big farmers to evade payment limits.

The 2008 farm law included requirements that banned farm subsidy payments to the wealthiest Americans. Critics say a lax USDA rule allows so-called “paper” farmers to qualify for subsidies even if they’re not involved directly in farm operations.

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