WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, today released the following opening statement – as prepared for delivery – at the hearing to consider the nomination of George "Sonny" Perdue to be Secretary of Agriculture.
Stabenow’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am pleased to finally be here to consider our nominee to be Secretary of Agriculture.
It is clear that Agriculture and rural America need to have a seat at the table in this Administration.
Looking back at our history, our Presidents knew that farmers were the foundation of our country.
That is why President Lincoln created the USDA and called it “The People’s Department” because he understood that agriculture is a cornerstone of the economy and that the Department had a special relationship with the people it served.
America’s farmers and ranchers grow the safest, most affordable food supply in the world.
I always say that food security is national security, because having a food secure nation makes our country safer.
Our food and agriculture sector also supports 16 million American jobs.
It is USDA’s job to ensure we can continue to make and grow things in every state. That means celebrating the diversity of American Agriculture.
Michigan is the second most diverse agricultural state in the country and it is important that USDA is a voice for Michigan farmers as well as Kansas farmers and Georgia farmers.
Large and small, conventional and organic, those who sell overseas and those who sell to their neighbors—we need a voice for ALL farmers.
An Agriculture Secretary will need to look past regional divides or partisan pressures to support all farmers, all families and all rural communities.
And right now, we need an advocate to stand up for them in this administration.
USDA not only helps a farmer weather storms, it also saves communities from wildfires in the West, helps to make lakes and rivers safe for families to enjoy and ensures children have the healthy food they need to learn and grow up to be healthy adults.
Rural America is the economic backbone of our country – and it’s true that too many rural towns are still struggling to recover from the Great Recession.
Over the last eight years, USDA has made targeted investments in rural economies, and now we’re beginning to see these communities on the road to recovery.
But we need to make sure that these important investments continue, so we can keep moving forward.
During the first two months of the Administration, it’s clear that rural America has been an afterthought.
Even before President Trump took office, he sent a message by waiting until the last minute to name his pick for Agriculture Secretary.
Last week’s budget proposal also made it clear that rural America isn’t a top priority for this Administration.
The proposal cuts USDA funding by 21% - the third largest cut to ANY federal agency.
In addition to eliminating critical rural development and international food aid programs, the Administration has put a target on hundreds of critical USDA programs that rely on annually appropriated funds.
Under President Trump's budget, important resources for farmers and families are facing cuts averaging 33%.
We need a Secretary of Agriculture who will advocate for the important services USDA provides.
We need a strong voice to insist that the President listen to the 500 groups that are saying that agriculture, conservation, food assistance and other Farm Bill programs should not be cut further after agreeing to a $23 Billion cut in the last Farm Bill.
We also need someone who will partner closely with Congress, especially as we put together the next Farm Bill and look at other key issues like immigration and trade that have a tremendous impact on farmers and rural communities.
In the 2014 Farm Bill, we made bipartisan reforms that saved taxpayers billions and protected the integrity of the farm and family safety net.
The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the Farm Bill is projected to save $80 billion more than initially expected, largely driven by lower crop insurance costs and reduced spending on food assistance as the economy has improved.
In this Congress, we will be working hard to move another bipartisan farm bill and I am excited to take on this challenge with you Mr. Chairman, with USDA leadership, and with all of our critical stakeholders.
I am confident we can work together to develop a bipartisan comprehensive bill that is good for farmers and families across our country.
Especially during these times of low prices for agriculture and uncertainty around budget, trade and immigration, we need the next Secretary to be an unapologetic advocate for all of rural America.
We need someone who will be tenacious, much like a Georgia bulldog.
Governor Perdue, we need a champion for agriculture, for families and rural America.
Today, I look forward to learning more about your views and qualifications to lead one of the most important departments in our federal government.