George “Sonny” Perdue, President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of agriculture, delivered his vision for the Department of Agriculture (USDA) in his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday morning.
Perdue, former governor of Georgia and agri-business tycoon, told the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry he has four goals for American farmers, mainly focused on farm producers, food safety, and responsibility to taxpayers.
Here is an excerpt from Perdue’s opening statement to the committee:
If I am honored with Senate confirmation, I will work tirelessly to advance four primary goals. And each of those goals is focused on an important constituency, the stakeholders of American agriculture.
First, I will maximize the ability of the men and women of America’s agriculture and agribusiness sector to create jobs, to produce and sell the foods and fiber that feed and clothe the world, and to reap the earned reward of their labor. We want to remove every obstacle, and give them every opportunity to prosper.
Second, for the American taxpayers – our customers – I will prioritize customer service every day. They expect, and have every right to demand, that we conduct the people’s business efficiently, effectively, and with the utmost integrity.
Third, as our taxpayers are also consumers, they expect a safe and secure food supply and USDA will continue to serve in the critical role of ensuring the food we put on the table to feed our families meets the strict safety standards we’ve established. I will never forget that we’re the fortunate beneficiaries of past generations, who put a premium on smart stewardship, protecting, preserving, and entrusting us with those valuable resources.
And fourth, American agricultural bounty comes directly from the land. And today, those land resources sustain more than 320 million Americans and countless millions more around the globe. My father’s words still ring in my ears, “Son, if you take care of the land, it will take care of you. Owned or rented, we’re all stewards, and our responsibility is to leave it better than we found it”.
Should I be confirmed as Secretary of Agriculture, we will safeguard that trust, maintaining always our responsibility as good stewards. That means supporting private landowners in their conservation efforts, and managing the natural resources entrusted directly to the Department – including our National Forests – with sharp focus on renewability, sustainability, and most effective use. We will face the greatest challenges facing the agricultural industry and rural America while collaborating to make opportunities for the future.
Absent from Perdue’s opening remarks was any mention of food stamps, also called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, a program managed by the USDA.
Following questions from Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the highest ranking Democrat on the committee, Perdue said he believes it’s important to help poor and elderly Americans through food assistance. “These are important programs, I recognize that,” Perdue said.
Stabenow also asked whether Perdue was concerned about Trump’s proposed budget, which called a 21 percent cut to the USDA’s budget.
Perdue said he would be a “tenacious advocate” for agriculture, and cited his time as governor of Georgia to say he had experience stretching budgets.
Perdue will certainly face questions on trade and immigration from Republican senators, but Senate leadership is confident Perdue will be confirmed.
Leaders in the agriculture industry have expressed concerns on Trump’s tough positions on trade deals, as exports are critical to nearly every farming sector in the U.S. Farms also depend on inexpensive, seasonal labor, and many farmers are concerned reducing immigration will hurt their ability to find workers.
Perdue was the final nomination Trump made to his cabinet before his inauguration, and he waited nearly two months for the Senate to schedule a date for his hearing. Perdue and the White House were slow to deliver the necessary paperwork on ethics documents, financial disclosures, and FBI background checks, to the Senate. (RELATED: White House Finally Sends The Senate Some Paperwork On Sonny Perdue)
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