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Ranking Member Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing to Consider USDA Nominees

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, today released the following opening statement – as prepared for delivery – at the nomination hearing to consider Stephen Censky to serve as Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, and Ted McKinney to serve as Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Stabenow’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

I am pleased to finally be here to consider two very important USDA nominees. I’d like to congratulate Mr. Censky and Mr. McKinney, and welcome their families here today.

USDA must be a forceful advocate for our farmers and ranchers. And, USDA also plays a role in protecting our land and water, standing up for our small towns and rural communities, and ensuring that all families have enough nutritious food to eat.

We need strong leaders who understand the vital role USDA plays in the lives of every American. In Michigan, agriculture is our second largest industry, supporting one in four jobs. The farmers, families, and rural communities in my state deserve to have experienced and impartial leaders who will always have their back.

Mr. Censky and Mr. McKinney, both of you have had distinguished careers in agriculture. It’s clear that you share a deep rooted commitment to our farmers and those who call rural America home.

Mr. Censky, you have held an impressive tenure at the American Soybean Association as a strong advocate and leader for one of our country’s top crops.

Your reputation as a steady hand will be especially useful as our farmers struggle with low prices and USDA faces tight budgets and a daunting re-organization.

Communities in Michigan and across the country deserve a high level of service from USDA and we will look to you to ensure that it continues.

The Deputy Secretary traditionally serves as the Chief Operating Officer of USDA. In this role, you will need to ensure that none of the Department’s diverse roles or critical mission areas are forgotten.

This responsibility is one of the most important and likely the most challenging. I hope you will consider this committee a partner in that task.

Mr. McKinney, you are no stranger to agriculture either, serving as the director of the Indiana State Department of Ag. As a neighbor of Michigan, you know that agriculture is critical to both of our states’ economies. 

You also know that our farmers need consistent access to markets abroad in order to sell their products.

As the Administration reexamines our trade agreements, producers in my state are concerned that agriculture could lose important trading partners.

For example, Canada and Mexico import many Michigan-grown commodities including corn, soybeans, dairy, and apples.

If confirmed, Mr. McKinney it is important that you be a strong advocate for agriculture within the Administration. It is vitally important that any NAFTA renegotiation first “does no harm” to Michigan agriculture.

If the Administration chooses to reexamine other trade deals, your voice will be essential in making sure agriculture is not left behind.

I also want to underscore the important role that both of you will play in the budget process. In President Trump’s first budget proposal, the Administration recommended completely eliminating funding for many important programs – including areas that the Under Secretary of Trade would oversee.

The budget would eliminate agricultural export programs, which support hundreds of thousands of jobs both on and off the farm. Many of these jobs are in Michigan.  

If confirmed, it is vitally important for both of you to advocate for our farmers and families and fight back against any additional cuts. 

I’m sure you both share my frustration that crucial leadership positions at the Department have been vacant since the beginning of this year.

During the Trump administration, we’ve seen historic delays in receiving nominees from the White House. I’m glad to see that USDA nominations are beginning to trickle in, but there’s still a long way to go.

Mr. Chairman, I was pleased to work with you to quickly confirm Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue after he was finally nominated.

But he can’t singlehandedly run the Department. Our farmers and families desperately need a fully functioning USDA, and USDA needs qualified leadership to carry out its duties.

Mr. Chairman, I look forward to working in a bipartisan manner to continue to move qualified nominees through the process as quickly as possible.

Thank you.