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Vilsack Tapped as Obama's Agriculture Secretary

posted on December 19, 2008

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. The Bush Administration pledged Friday to lend as much as $17.4 billion to two of America's "Big 3" automakers.

While the Ford Motor Company has declined immediate financial assistance, The White House said it will let General Motors and Chrysler draw $13.4 billion in short-term financing, with provisions for Chrysler to receive another $4 billion o be loaned next February.

Under the terms of the loan, the government will have the option of receiving an equity stake in both companies, much as it has with major banks. If realized the provision would partially nationalize the auto industry.

The package gives the automakers until March 31st to become "financially viable — or the loans will be called in and the government will be paid before any other creditors when the companies go into bankruptcy.

Additionally, GM and Chrysler must agree to a range of concessions, including limits on executive pay and the elimination of private corporate jets.

Bush's plan is designed to keep the auto industry running in the short term, while passing the longer-range problem on to next administration.

This week though President-elect Obama unveiled more of his upcoming administration, including his choice for Secretary of Agriculture.

Vilsack Tapped as Obama's Agriculture Secretary

President-Elect Barack Obama: "When President Lincoln established the Department of Agriculture nearly a century and a half ago, he called it the People's Department, for it 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."

President-Elect Barack Obama tapped former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack as the nation's next Agriculture Secretary this week. Vilsack, a two-term Democratic Governor from the nation's top corn and hog-producing state, briefly outlined his vision for USDA.

Gov. Tom Vilsack, D- Iowa, 1999-2007: "It must aggressively promote policies and programs that support sustainable practices, to conserve and preserve our precious natural resources: Our land, our water and our forest. It must work in concert with other federal departments, state and local governments and the private sector, to promote American leadership in response to global climate change. And it must place nutrition at the center of all food assistance programs administered by the department. It must be innovative and creative in all its work during a time of economic anxiety and limited resources."

Vilsack, whose prior experience comes as a small town mayor and Iowa legislator, reached the Iowa Governor's office in 1999.

During his governorship, Vilsack unabashedly promoted corn-based ethanol, funding for biotechnology, and the endorsement of conservation programs. According to the Environmental Working Group database of government farm payments, Vilsack himself received more than $40,000 in conservation payments between 2000-2006. But Vilsack has dealt with controversial topics in his home state – particularly the issue of local control for hog confinements.

Vilsack's selection as the next USDA Secretary brings enormous regional control to the "corn belt" and Iowa. Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin will retain his status as Senate Ag Committee Chairman and fellow Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, also sits on the agriculture committee.

Vilsack is bound to tackle a series of challenges at USDA in the coming years. President-elect Obama, like his predecessor, hopes to reduce government farm payments to the nation's farmers. The future of corn-based ethanol will be tested under increased criticism from animal producers and food groups. And global trade talks remain a lingering obstacle for Vilsack and the next U.S. Trade Representative. But amidst future uncertainty, Obama insists the two-term Governor from the Heartland is the best man for USDA.

President-Elect Barack Obama: "Tom Vilsack has been a leader among governors when it comes to clean energy, when it comes to agriculture. Obviously, if you don't know agriculture, you're not going to be the governor of Iowa. And one of the things that has struck me about Tom, though, is as fiercely protective of family farms and the farm economy as he has been, he's also been forward looking in thinking about, you know, how can we move toward cellulosic ethanol? How can we harness wind and solar power to give a boost to our rural economies?"

Gov. Tom Vilsack, D- Iowa, 1999-2007: "As a small town lawyer, I had the responsibility of helping farm families during tough economic times. I know these people. America's farmers and ranchers deserve a secretary of Agriculture that respects them for the contributions they make to all of us everyday. I hope to be that secretary."

Tags: agriculture Barack Obama government news Tom Vilsack USDA