Mr. President, I appreciate my colleague, Senator Ernst, for her remarks as well as Ranking Member Stabenow, and of course, Senator Grassley- who has been such a leader on Ag issues as well as Senator Ernst in their state.
I come here to join Senator Grassley, not only from the other side of the aisle, but also where Iowa and Minnesota are concerned, across the border. Our states have rivalries in football and many other things, but one thing we always agree on is having strong people to be the voice of agriculture at the USDA. I supported Secretary Perdue when President Trump nominated him, and I believe that he needs a team to be able to do the complicated work of agriculture at a time when we’ve seen difficulty in everything from the dairy industry to cotton. To issues with prices for so many of our commodities. To just only a few years ago the avian flu that was such a threat to the poultry industry in Minnesota and in Iowa.
The thought that we wouldn’t have an Undersecretary in place for farm production and conservation, such an important part of the work of the USDA right now, is just unbelievable to me. As the nominee for Undersecretary in this area, Mr. Northey would be tasked with guiding some of USDA’s most important agencies that interact with farmers and ranchers on a daily basis. Including the Farm Service Agency- so important to my farmers when they have questions about how they are supposed to sign up for things and complex programs when they are a small farmer just trying to do their job, and that need that Farm Service Agency. The Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Risk Management Agency, as we prepare to write and to pass a bi-partisan Farm Bill, Mr. Northey’s technical and legal assistance from USDA is going to be critical.
The absence of an Undersecretary for this critical mission also has a domino effect that is leaving important USDA agencies without leadership and without guidance. This is not good governance. Secretary Perdue picked him because he was someone who had served as a State Agricultural Commissioner, as Senator Ernst has pointed out is not someone who is from inside the Beltway their whole life, this is someone that knows a state that has a lot of Ag.
When he came before the Senate Agriculture Committee last October, I had the opportunity to question him about his priorities for the USDA. He has spent his entire life in agriculture, he knows farmers, he knows rural economy, and he knows what is needed. I appreciate the fact that he answered honestly questions about the renewable fuel standard; he sees it as I do in Minnesota as a homegrown economic generator. We are a state that is right next door to North Dakota, we appreciate both their ethanol and their oil industries. These are pertinent parts of Minnesota’s and our country’s energy. That being said, we see biofuels as an economic generator. This idea that we want to make sure that we are keeping strong industries alive so that the farmers and the workers of the Midwest are taking part in energy just as much as the oil Sheikhs in the Mideast.
The final rule for 2018 and 2019 that went through two administrations, kept volume requirements for ethanol steady, and made some improvements in blend targets of advanced biofuels. The final rule was a declarative statement by the administration that renewable fuels are simply an important part of our transportation fuel supply and an important part of our economy.
But that is not what this is about, our friend from Texas, Senator Cruz, has decided to use the nomination of someone who has done nothing but serve our country and serve the state of Iowa as Agriculture Secretary there, the Agriculture Commissioner, with merit. I don’t believe you should be holding nominees hostage. This is not something I’ve done as a Senator, and Senator Cruz and I have debated this in the past when he held up the ambassadors to Norway and Sweden. Two ambassador positions that were very important to Iowa, to Minnesota, because of our Scandinavian populations, and yet we went for years without ambassadors to those really important allied countries.
We went for years with two qualified people that could have taken over a year before, who had gone through- just like this nominee, unanimously through the Foreign Relations Committee without objections. Yet, Senator Cruz was Concerned about the naming of a street in front of the Embassy of China, which was completely unrelated.
So while I appreciate him representing interests in his state, and I appreciate the fact that we can have legitimate debates about energy and energy policy, I just don’t believe that you should be holding qualified nominees hostage. In the case of the ambassadors for Norway and Sweden, we were ultimately triumphant, because people from the Republican side of the aisle and the Democratic side of the aisle came together and said enough is enough we need people that are qualified to fill these important positions in our government.
That is exactly what is happening here again.
This is a qualified nominee, and the Senate should not be a place where someone of this qualification should be blocked for an important position, just as we are considering the Farm Bill, just as we are dealing with disaster recovery all over the nation. Including in places like Texas, like Florida, and I just don’t believe in this scorched earth policy. I believe, like we do on the Agriculture Committee that we work things out, we may have differences of opinion, but we let people fill an important position like this.
I’m glad that our colleague from Texas has remained through this discussion with his friends form the Midwest, and we just hope that some of that Midwestern common sense will come his way. Because like Senator Grassley, I visit every county in Minnesota every year, all 87 counties and I can tell you that when I want to hear what the farmers think, I listen to Senator Grassley, but most importantly I listen to the people in my state. And they want to have a USDA that is functioning, and working, and ready for all the issues that we’re confronting right now in Agriculture in the US. Thank you very much Mr. President, I yield the floor.