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03 May 2015 - Washington Watch, an Eye Opener

Earlier this week I spent three days in our nation’s Capitol. I have been going to Washington, D.C. on a regular basis ever since the late 1950’s. I always find it an exciting city. The event this past week - Washington Watch, a three-day program every year in April, sponsored by the National Association of Farm Broadcasting.

Farm broadcasters from all over the country come together to discuss current domestic and international issues that affect America’s farmers and ranchers. We have the opportunity to talk to officials representing agricultural and commodity organizations on Capitol Hill, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and other officials at USDA, and then to the halls of Congress to visit with members of the House and Senate.

I have seen many changes over the past 55 years. One change that always stand out to me is the building boom in Washington that seems to never end; new buildings going up to house agencies and their employees as the government continues to grow. I can’t help but wonder if the signers of the Constitution had any idea that the government they created would ever grow to this monstrous size.

There is another change that was very evident this year; there are more ladies playing important roles in Congress. At one of our sessions, we visited with and interviewed seven members of the House and Senate, and four of the seven were women!

We heard from Senator Joni Ernst-Republican from Iowa, Senator Debbie Stabenow- Democrat from Michigan, Senator Heidi Heitkamp-Democrat from North Dakota and Congresswoman Kristi Noem-Republican from South Dakota. They all are articulate ladies who have a good grasp of the agricultural challenges in Congress and strong feelings on how they can fix them. I was impressed.

Finally, some thoughts about Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. In a period of forty minutes, he intelligently discussed a wide range of agricultural topics…the bird flu outbreak, WTO & COOL, the school lunch program, farm bill implementation, California drought, child poverty in rural areas, climate change, the need for agricultural research, and the trade agreements currently being negotiated.

The Secretary got right to the point on all these issues and discussed them with knowledge and conviction. You don’t have to agree with him on everything, but I give him high marks for the growth he has shown me since taking the job in 2010. He is on schedule to become the first eight-year Secretary since Orville Freeman in the Kennedy-Johnson administrations. It is a political job that is not easy, but I think he is handling it well.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.