WASHINGTON – President Bush moved Wednesday to fill the second of two vacancies in his Cabinet, announcing he would nominate Edward T. Schafer, a Republican former governor of North Dakota, to be the secretary of agriculture.
Schafer, if confirmed by the Senate, would be tasked with winning congressional approval of an updated farm bill, which would have a broad reach across the economy and is one of the top remaining elements on the administration’s domestic agenda.
“With Ed’s leadership, we will work with Congress to pass a farm bill that provides farmers with a safety net, protects our lands and the environment, and spends federal tax dollars wisely,” Bush said at a ceremony in the White House Roosevelt Room, with Schafer at his side.
The announcement won a friendly reception from a key senator – Democrat Tom Harkin of Iowa, who is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee – and North Dakota’s two Democratic senators.
Harkin singled out the new five-year farm bill and Schafer’s views on it as a top issue in considering the nomination.
The Agriculture Committee recently finished work on its version of the $288 billion measure; the House has completed work on another. The president, seeking to cut back on subsidies that have been central to farm programs for more than half a century, has threatened to veto the House legislation.
Schafer was joined at the White House by former Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, who has resigned to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., who is not seeking re-election.
Beyond its work with American farmers, the Agriculture Department, with more than 100,000 employees, is responsible for the national forests, school food programs, opening export markets for American beef and produce, and, increasingly, energy programs dealing with ethanol and other biofuels.