Ag pick seeks to reassure Congress as Trump eyes farm cuts

Agriculture Secretary-designate, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is sworn-in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 23, 2017, prior to testifying at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The nominee for agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, on Thursday sought to reassure farm-state senators fearful about the impact of President Donald Trump’s proposed deep cuts to farm programs, promising to work with Democrats to create jobs in the struggling industry.

At his confirmation hearing, the former Georgia governor stressed bipartisanship, reaching out to Democrats who have complained about Trump’s lack of experience in agriculture and his proposed 21 percent cut to the farm budget.

“In Georgia, agriculture is one area where Democrats and Republicans consistently reached across the aisle and work together,” Perdue said.

Perdue, 70, is a farmer’s son who would be the first Southerner in the post in more than two decades. Some Democrats have said they will support his nomination, and he is expected to be confirmed easily. But Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, expressed frustration with the Trump administration, saying “it’s clear that rural America has been an afterthought.”

She said government dollars are important to rural communities as many of them are still struggling to recover from the Great Recession.

“Especially during these times of low prices for agriculture and uncertainty around budget, trade and immigration, we need the next secretary to be an unapologetic advocate for all of rural America,” she said.

Farm-state Republicans have also criticized the proposed budget cuts and have been wary of the president’s positions against some trade agreements, as trade is a major economic driver in the agricultural industry.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said at the hearing that producers need a market for their goods, and “during this critical time, the importance of trade for the agriculture industry cannot be overstated.”

Perdue was the last of Trump’s Cabinet nominees to be chosen, and his nomination was delayed for weeks as the administration prepared his ethics paperwork. Perdue eventually said he would step down from several companies bearing his name to avoid conflicts of interest.

He and Trump’s choice for labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, are two of the final nominees for Trump’s Cabinet still pending in the Senate. Acosta was nominated in February after the withdrawal of the original nominee, Andrew Puzder.

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