It’s likely Sonny Perdue will be up to speed on the issues facing agriculture if the Senate follows through and votes to confirm Perdue early next week.
That’s the expectation of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who told reporters on Tuesday he expects Perdue to be confirmed with flying colors, perhaps garnering as many as 60 votes.
“I think he’ll have broad bipartisan support and will be sworn in right away,” Grassley said. “He’s probably on the job anyway, and I think his goal is to try to be a fast learner.”
The long-anticipated Perdue confirmation has been held up as Perdue has been working to divest from some of his business interests, Grassley said.
Add to that the overall slow process in approving President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees, he said, and it appears as if agriculture is on the new administration’s backburner.
Even with the slow start for Perdue, Grassley said it should in no way affect progress on drafting a new farm bill. In addition, there is some concern about how proposed USDA budget cuts could affect agriculture and what, if anything, Perdue would do to defend his department.
The Trump administration has proposed slashing USDA’s discretionary budget from about $22.6 billion to $17.9 billion. Those cuts would come from stopping funding for clean water programs, cutting county-level personnel, reducing some USDA statistical functions and rural business services.
Grassley said USDA personnel cuts could be particularly tough politically.
“Wait until he’s in office a few months to get a handle on it,” he said about Perdue.
What’s more, Grassley said it’s not likely anything involving agriculture will be a part of any potential federal government shutdown as the April 28 funding deadline approaches.
Last week, USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration announced it was delaying the scheduled implementation of the Packers and Stockyards Act Interim Final Rule until Oct. 19, 2017. The controversial rule was set to take effect on April 22.
There has been some suggestion that a rider provision to defund the GIPSA rule could be made part of an appropriations showdown.
Grassley, a staunch supporter of the GIPSA rule, said Tuesday he would not support such a rider for fear of shutting down the federal government.
“I doubt there would be a separate vote (on a rider),” he said. “If so, I would want GIPSA rules to go into effect. I know there’s disagreement in agriculture about this. We’re not going to shut down the government for these rules.”
Grassley, who is on a tour of Iowa counties during the Congressional recess, said the No. 1 concern he continues to hear from farmers is the future of trade.
The Trump administration has walked away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Pacific-rim nations and wants to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Despite that, Grassley said he believes once Robert Lighthizer is approved to be the next U.S. trade representative, the U.S. will move “quickly on bilateral trade agreements.”
Vice President Mike Pence is in Japan on Tuesday and is expected to talk trade.
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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