USDA Secretary faces tense budget questioning by House Appropriations Subcommittee

Capitol Hill witnessed debates yesterday as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack confronted a barrage of questions from the House Appropriations Subcommittee regarding the USDA’s 2024-2025 budget and policy decisions.

Things got heated on Capitol Hill yesterday as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack appeared before the House Appropriations Subcommittee to discuss the USDA’s 2024-2025 budget. Amid the discussions, several representatives raised pressing concerns, creating a charged atmosphere.

Representative John Moolenaar (R-MI) expressed concerns about increasing farm labor costs, urging Secretary Vilsack to advocate for American farmers. Moolenaar emphasized, “So, Mr. Secretary, I would ask you to stand up for American farmers, and you’re the only one in the administration that can do it.”

“I stand up for farmers every single day, sir,” Vilsack responded, defending his commitment to supporting both farmers and farmworkers.

However, the meeting took a more contentious turn when Representative Ben Cline (R-VA) questioned a $1 million bird flu research collaboration between the USDA and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Cline raised concerns about the collaboration’s alignment with U.S. grant policies and the handling of COVID-19 investigations. Secretary Vilsack defended the research collaboration, emphasizing the need to address the devastating impacts of avian flu on the poultry industry.

Vilsack also faced criticism regarding the administration’s handling of free trade agreements. He advocated for the passage of a ‘Trade Promotion Authority Bill,’ which would streamline the approval process for trade agreements and limit congressional amendments. Vilsack argued, “Without that bill in place, it’s hard to settle on deals with other countries especially when hundreds of lawmakers could add amendments.”

Congressman David Valadao (R-CA), a dairy farmer himself, pressed Secretary Vilsack on disparities in aid between Puerto Rico and California’s dairy industries following natural disasters. Valadao urged Vilsack to assist California’s dairy industry within existing guidelines, highlighting the state’s significant agricultural contributions.

In response, Secretary Vilsack emphasized the importance of adhering to guidelines and the USDA’s efforts to support various agricultural programs. However, Valadao expressed frustration over what he perceived as a lack of assistance for sectors like dairy, leading to a fundamental disagreement between the two.