Smooth confirmation expected for Vilsack

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It's been nearly a month now since President-elect Barack Obama nominated former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack to be his secretary of agriculture. His confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Agriculture Committee is set for Jan. 14 at 10 am EST, and so far his confirmation looks to be a sure shot.

Last week members of the Senate Agriculture Committee had one-on-one meetings with the secretary designate. However, the exact make-up of the committee remains unknown while the seat of Minnesota's Sen. Norm Coleman remains caught in a legal battle. Former Agriculture Secretary and junior senator from Nebraska Mike Johanns has expressed interest in serving on the committee, but as of yet hasn't been formerly named.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the country is fortunate to have someone like Vilsack appointed who's been around agriculture and the family farm. Grassley said in his meeting with Vilsack he "discussed several topics, including the department's handling of civil rights issues, enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act, and actively engaged rules of farm program payments."

Grassley and others expected Vilsack will have "little or no opposition" in his hearing this week.

Vilsack's experience as governor has taught him how to balance impeding demands and deal with constituencies that may not get everything they want, said Mark Maslyn, executive director of public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Not only has he dealt with agriculture, but in his time as governor he addressed a broad array of problems and issues that impact agriculture including energy, taxes and transportation policy, Maslyn added.

Vilsack's been a champion of biofuels, biotechnology, trade and supported livestock operations.

Upon his nomination, Vilsack received praise from various environmental and conservation groups as well as the traditional farm groups.

In announcing the nomination, President-elect Barack Obama, said Vilsack is the man to "unlock the potential of a 21st century agriculture economy."

"As Governor of one of our most abundant farm states, he led with vision, promoting biotech to strengthen our farmers and fostering an agricultural economy of the future that not only grows the food we eat, but the energy we use. Tom understands that the solution to our energy crisis will be found not in oil fields abroad but in our farm fields here at home. That is the kind of leader I want in my cabinet.

"As our next Secretary of Agriculture, Tom will not only help ensure that rural America has a true partner in implementing the Farm Bill and pursuing agricultural research, but that Washington is looking out for everyone from the small family farms that are feeding our communities to the large farms that are feeding the world. When President Lincoln established the Department of Agriculture nearly a century and a half ago, he called it the "people's department" for it was meant to serve the interests of those who lived off the land. And I know it will be the people's department once more when Tom is at the helm," Obama said.

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