Former North Dakota Governor Ed Schafer, nominated by President Bush to helm the USDA, had an easy, bump-free ride during Thursday’s Senate Agriculture Committee confirmation hearing. With many senators saying the nomination was uncontroversial, several suggested Shafer’s confirmation be put on the fast track.

The confirmation hearing for the 29th agriculture secretary was originally scheduled for Jan. 30. However, at the urging of several North Dakota politicians, committee chairman Tom Harkin agreed to the earlier date to allow Schafer to attend President Bush’s State of the Union address as a member of the cabinet. Harkin said he’d try to move the nomination out of committee by Jan. 28, the day of the Bush’s address.

“I arrive here today with my heart in agriculture and my foundation in business,” said Schafer to the committee. “(That’s) a combination I hope you’ll agree is a perfect fit for the rigors of administrating and managing the USDA. And finally, if confirmed, I pledge to work tirelessly to ensure that the USDA programs are administered efficiently and effectively and most important with fairness and equality. To start this journey, I ask you for your support for confirmation and I look forward to serving the people of the United States of America.”

The only shadow over the proceedings was a series of references to the current impasse between Congress and the White House over a new farm bill (see http://deltafarmpress.com/farmbill/permanent-law-0108/). Even though the legislation has bipartisan support, the White House is threatening to veto it.

“Among your key responsibilities is faithfully carrying out the laws that Congress writes and the president signs,” said Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, in opening statements. “Currently, we face a big challenge in completing a new farm bill for you to implement.

“Unfortunately, we do not yet have the support of the president. I am hopeful that we can approach this challenge reasonably and cooperate to reach agreements. Gov. Schafer, we look forward to working with you, and we are counting on your help in working out differences in order to enact a sound new farm (bill) for our nation.”

Schafer, following the-less-said-the-better template currently in favor by most nominees before congressional committees, offered few specifics about his approach to the farm bill but said he hoped to “narrow the differences” between Congress and the Bush administration.

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com