- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 6, 2005

A Senate agriculture panel majority yesterday approved the nomination of Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns as U.S. agriculture secretary.

Mr. Johanns, a Republican, is the first of President Bush’s second-term nominees to clear a Senate committee. The action all but guarantees that the full Senate will confirm Mr. Johanns to succeed Ann M. Veneman and become the nation’s 28th secretary of agriculture.

Mr. Johanns will resign as governor upon confirmation.

Eleven of the 20 senators present voted to approve the nomination. Because the panel originally planned to vote later, the roll call was held open to allow the rest to vote.

During the hearing, senate Democrats asked Mr. Johanns to reconsider the Bush administration’s decision last week to open U.S. borders to Canadian cattle despite a fresh case of mad cow disease in Alberta.

“I am far from convinced that Canada is effectively enforcing its own regulations,” Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, told Mr. Johanns at a hearing by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee on his nomination.

Mr. Johanns promised the panel he would adhere to the values he learned growing up on an Iowa dairy farm.

“I will always be a farmer’s son with an intense passion for agriculture,” he said.

The agriculture job is “one of the most significant positions in government, and one of the most unheralded,” Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, the committee’s senior Democrat, told Mr. Johanns.

As Nebraska’s governor, Mr. Johanns helped develop recommendations from Western and Midwestern states that became part of the 2002 farm law, and he advocated a system that would warn farmers earlier and prepare them better for drought. He also developed a bill of rights for workers in the meatpacking industry.

Republicans and Democrats alike expect swift approval of the nomination. Nonetheless, they had tough questions for Mr. Johanns, especially about the reopening of U.S. borders to Canadian cattle.

“I told him to go slow because I don’t believe we know enough about the safety of Canada’s beef supply to open the border up again,” Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, said after meeting Tuesday with Mr. Johanns. “The risks are just too great. I’m suggesting to the administration that we slow this process down and use only sound science as a guide, not politics on one side of the border or the other.”

Canada confirmed the discovery of a second case of mad cow disease on Sunday, days after the United States said it would lift a ban on Canadian beef. Shipments of Canadian cattle were halted in May 2003 after the discovery of the first case.

Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas is concerned about persuading other countries, Japan in particular, to reopen their borders to U.S. beef.

“One of the questions that I think farmers are asking is, ‘Why are we reopening our borders to Canada when we can’t ship to Japan yet?’ ” Mr. Roberts said. “I don’t think from a scientific standpoint that poses problems, but the timing of it — certainly, he’ll get questions about that. And reopening the market to Japan is absolutely crucial to us.”

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