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BrownfieldAgNews reports:

New U.S. Ag Secretary Ed Schafer had a busy first day at work. Schafer, confirmed by the full Senate on Monday, met Tuesday with President Bush about the pending farm bill, and also introduced himself to USDA employees in a speech at the Agency's Washington D.C. headquarters.

The speech to USDA employees contained moments of hilarity. Early in his remarks, Schafer praised Deputy U.S. Ag Secretary Chuck Conner, who ran USDA as Acting U.S. Ag Secretary after Mike Johanns resigned last September to mount a campaign for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel. Schafer said earlier in the day, he'd seen a flock of geese in flight as he gazed out his office window, and noted how sometimes the goose in front will drop back and another will take the lead, reducing the wind resistance for all other geese in the phalanx.

"And so, I'm now going to be breaking the wind for Chuck," Schafer said, to uproarious laughter.

Toward the end of his speech, Schafer reflected on a childhood in which he had seven uncles who were all mechanics. He pulled out a small toolbox presented to him by members of his staff when he was North Dakota's governor, and told USDA employees they could look to him as a kind of "Mr. Fixit" when they needed help fulfilling their responsibilities.

"I'm the one that you need to come to get things out of your way, to repair, to remove the barriers, to get them in a position so that you can deliver your job," said Schafer.

During his confirmation hearing last week, a recurring theme from Senators was the need for Schafer's help in working out a compromise with President Bush over the pending farm bill. The White House has opposed both the House and Senate versions of the legislation because they generate revenue to pay for the measure. Lawmakers say they're closing tax loopholes. President Bush says Congress is increasing taxes.

And lawmakers may find having Schafer as the U.S. Ag Secretary may not change much in the President's position on the farm bill. After his remarks to USDA employees, Schafer spoke briefly with reporters, telling USDA's Radio Newsline that the President just isn't going to accept a farm bill funded by new revenues.

"He's not interested in signing a farm bill that has new taxes in it," Schafer said. "The new taxes are there to increase expenditures and I think he's going to stand hard on that issue."

The President's position sets up another showdown between the White House and Congress. The 2002 farm bill has already been extended through March 15th. Unless Congress extends it again or passes new farm legislation, the permanent farm law of 1949 will take effect, though most see that scenario as unlikely.

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