Forum editorial: Schafer can leave mark on farm bill
It comes as no surprise to North Dakotans that former Gov. Ed Schafer has won plaudits on his way to becoming the nation's 29th Secretary of Agriculture. Schafer is affable and competent. His nomination by his friend, President George W. Bush, wa...
It comes as no surprise to North Dakotans that former Gov. Ed Schafer has won plaudits on his way to becoming the nation's 29th Secretary of Agriculture. Schafer is affable and competent. His nomination by his friend, President George W. Bush, was cheered in North Dakota and received well in the rest of the nation. During his Senate Agriculture Committee confirmation hearing last week he said all the right things during what was not quite a love-fest, but close enough. His confirmation by the full Senate - probably this week - is certain.
But unless Schafer wants his tenure at USDA to be merely a footnote - caretaker status during the last months of a lame-duck presidency - he will use his reservoir of goodwill to convince the president to sheathe the veto pen. President Bush has threatened to veto the 2008 farm bill because he believes it's too expensive and - at this writing - does not include a farm payments subsidy cap to his liking.
As a former two-term, farm-state governor, Schafer understands production agriculture. He knows how important a farm bill with a market-based safety net is for producers in North Dakota and other farm states. He has seen how unnecessarily difficult it can be to secure disaster aid for farmers. The new bill includes a permanent disaster title, which is among the provisions the administration does not like.
House and Senate versions of the bill will be reconciled in conference committee, but the major crop support titles likely will change little.
As ag secretary, Schafer will find himself carrying water for an administration that wants to gut a bill that has almost unprecedented bipartisan support among farmers, agri-business people, rural bankers and rural main streets. The measure of his influence with the president will be the effectiveness of his advocacy for the farmers and ranchers he knows so well. As it stands now, USDA's point man on the bill, Acting Secretary Chuck Conner, is conveying a message to farm country that sounds like fingernails on a blackboard. The question: Will the message from the new secretary be different or will it be a retread dressed up in Schafer's trademark charm and smile?
The new ag chief will be a short-timer. He'll be out of a job in 11 months if he stays on for the remainder of the president's term. But because of his long-standing relationship with the president - going back to when both were governors - Schafer has an opportunity to leave his mark on the USDA and U.S. agriculture. He should use his insider status to convince his friend in the Oval Office that the new farm bill is one of the best, one of the most fiscally responsible ever to come out of Congress.
North Dakotan will be new Secretary of Agriculture.
Schafer has the president's ear regarding the farm bill.
Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board.