Secretaries on the Hill

In the past week, two Trump Cabinet officials important to agriculture graced Capitol Hill lawmakers with their presence.

On Feb. 6, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue testified before the House Agriculture Committee on the state of the rural economy.

From the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or as many folks call it, food stamps) to international trade to crop insurance, Secretary Perdue was asked about anything and everything that touches rural America.

The timing of Perdue’s appearance was intentional, I’m sure. It was just ahead of the farm bill and the president’s budget, which you’ll probably have heard about before you read this. It’s due out Feb. 12. As always, there will be cuts to agriculture. And, as always, Congress will ignore the president’s budget—no matter who is in office.

Perdue also touched on his contingency plan if the United States pulls out of the North American Free Trade Agreement but said there wasn’t a whole lot the department could do about prices.

When talking about NAFTA, Perdue said, “I am a little more hopeful than I have been. I think we have seen more movement on Mexico’s side than Canada. I think if we get the Mexican politics out of the way, we’ll get a deal before the end of the year.”

A little progress was made at the most recent NAFTA talks in Montreal, but that’s a lot more progress than was made in all the five talks prior. At least the three countries are now planning future talks. That’s a positive sign.

Another of President Trump’s Cabinet members also appeared on Capitol Hill recently.

On Jan. 30, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testified in an oversight hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

It went about how you would expect. Republicans praised the deregulatory work of Pruitt’s EPA, while Democrats lambasted him for anything and everything they could. Farm state senators on the committee applauded the EPA’s rollback of regulations, saying those actions resulted in their states’ increases in employment.

In his first appearance before the committee since his nomination hearing over a year ago, Administrator Pruitt announced the EPA’s plans to rewrite the “Waters of the U.S.” rule. Farmers have been begging for a revision for years. He said a rewrite would likely come by the end of the year.

Pruitt said, “We will be providing regulatory certainty because there are steps being taken to provide a substitute for WOTUS.”

“This is not deregulation when it comes to WOTUS,” Pruitt said. “There are steps being taken to provide a replacement.”

Opponents attempted to paint Pruitt’s running of the EPA as the Wild West, rolling back regulations to the detriment of health and safety. Not caving in to senators’ demands to “yes or no answers,” it got testy at times, but Pruitt held his own.

Editor’s note: Seymour Klierly writes Washington Whispers for the Journal from inside the Beltway.