Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was summoned before the House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday to answer questions about how his department will handle budget cuts due to the sequester. Prior to Vilsack's opening remarks, committee chairman Frank Lucas took issue with previous statements Vilsack had made that his only course of action was to cut meat inspectors.
"Mr. Secretary, without hesitation, I know you are a great friend of agriculture and rural America, but I am disappointed to see the administration's comments on meat inspection. You have stated that the sequester provisions in the Budget Control Act will cause you to furlough Food Safety Inspection Service inspectors. Members of this Committee have heard from constituents that these statements about the interruption of production have affected prices, caused concern among financial markets, and alarmed buyers and sellers in the retail and food service community. I anticipate that my colleagues will have questions for you regarding your statements and the evolution of administration policy in this critical area."
Vilsack then delivered his opening remarks which covered several topics, including the sequester. He said he understood the need for a comprehensive farm bill as soon as is practical. He addressed the erection of unscientific barriers to U.S. exports of beef by Russia and China. Vilsack then assured the committee that he took budget cuts and the sequester very seriously.
Following his opening statement, Lucas questioned Vilsack about the potential furlough of meat inspectors. Vilsack told Lucas that furloughs would involve a very complex process, part of which is in the hands of union representatives.
He later told committee members that the only solution to his sequestration dilemma would be to provide more funds to the Agriculture Department.