Perdue, Conaway defend budget, Dems, most groups critical | TheFencePost.com

Perdue, Conaway defend budget, Dems, most groups critical

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and House Agriculture Committee ranking member Michael Conaway, R-Texas, today praised President Donald Trump's budget, even though it has big cuts to food assistance and agriculture, while Democrats denounced it and agriculture groups had mixed reactions.

Perdue said, "Our economy is booming, and unemployment is the lowest it's been in decades. While the agriculture community still faces challenges, the Trump economy is creating new opportunities for all Americans to thrive."

"President Trump's budget is fiscally conservative and lays out a vision for an accountable federal government that cuts spending. With our national debt soaring to over $22 trillion, we can no longer kick the can down the road.

"The time to act is now and USDA will actively do its part in reducing federal spending. We are stewards of other people's money and must be diligent in spending it more carefully than we would our own when it comes to delivering our programs. At the same time, we will maintain a safety net for farmers, ranchers, foresters, producers, and people who need assistance in feeding their families."

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Michael Conaway, R-Texas, commended Trump for "proposing a budget that prioritizes our military and the safety of our nation after devastating cuts under the Obama administration."

"On agriculture, as the president knows, the farm safety net accounts for less than a quarter of 1 percent — a rounding error by Washington standards. So when the chips are down we must keep our promise to farmers and ranchers and rural America made under the five-year farm bill, and I fully expect the president to be onboard.

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"I think the biggest danger facing farmers and ranchers and rural America right now is the politics being played by Democrats on passage of the USMCA — an agreement that is absolutely vital to our farmers and ranchers."

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said the budget request calls for a 15 percent cut to USDA programs.

"The president's budget request is a road map for how to make things worse for farmers, ranchers and those who live in rural communities: $26 billion in cuts to crop insurance; $9 billion in cuts to successful, voluntary conservation programs; $5 billion in cuts to Section 32 programs that help purchase commodities in times of need; $8 billion in cuts to programs that help ranchers recover grazing lands hurt by drought; yet another attempt to cut SNAP; elimination of the Rural Energy for America and Rural Economic Development programs and billions in other cuts.

"This proposal tells us one of two things: either the White House doesn't understand why these programs are important, or they don't care.

"What's more, all of these shortsighted cuts are second and third attempts to revisit policy proposals that were rejected in the farm bill negotiations. This budget was concocted by a bunch of ideologues who can't see what's clearly going on in the farm economy. The good news is this budget is going nowhere in Congress, where the bipartisan farm bill passed with 369 votes."

Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the administration calls for a 15 percent cut to USDA on top of a $267 billion cut to farm bill programs.

"Just months after the president signed the historic bipartisan farm bill into law, his budget proposal rolls back much of this critical support for agriculture and rural America," Stabenow said.

"The steep cuts to the USDA would jeopardize the department's ability to implement the farm bill at a time when farmers are struggling with economic instability and trade uncertainty.

"I strongly oppose actions that undermine the bipartisan farm bill and I will lead the bipartisan effort to ensure Congress rejects this budget, just as we have done in the previous proposals."

Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a former Senate Agriculture Committee chairman, said, "This is not a serious proposal."

"President Trump should work with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to reach a bipartisan budget agreement so we can begin the fiscal year 2020 appropriations process," Leahy said.

"Without an agreement, the law requires that we cut $71 billion (minus 11 percent) from defense programs and $54 billion from non-defense programs (minus 9 percent). The clock is already ticking, and we cannot and should not waste our time on partisan proposals and failed policies."

AG GROUPS REACT

A crop insurance industry coalition said it was disappointed that OMB "has targeted the federal crop insurance program for budget cuts just months after its importance was reaffirmed by the passage of the 2018 farm bill."

"This is a shortsighted proposal that, if adopted, would undermine a critical safety net for farmers when they need it most during this time of increasing economic difficulties and challenges in rural America," said the coalition, composed of the American Association of Crop Insurers, Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau, Crop Insurance Professionals Association, Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, National Association of Professional Insurance Agents, and National Crop Insurance Services.

"In the midst of a prolonged rural recession and crop damage from devastating weather events, we should be having a conversation about how to strengthen and improve crop insurance, not weaken the policies that so many of America's farmers rely on."

The coalition noted that "farmers help share the cost by spending $3.5 to $4 billion per year to purchase crop insurance and bear a significant portion of losses through deductibles."

"OMB's proposed budget cuts will make crop insurance unaffordable and unavailable for many farmers," the coalition said.

"We cannot balance the federal budget on the backs of America's farmers and ranchers. We urge Congress to reject these destructive cuts," the coalition said, noting that a large number of farm crops had asked Congress and Perdue not to cut crop insurance.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said "There is a very clear disconnect between President Trump's priorities and the economic realities facing family farmers, ranchers and rural communities."

"Despite the rapid decline in the farm economy, additional damages from self-inflicted trade disruptions, increasing demand for credit, overloaded farm hotlines, and deteriorating infrastructure in rural communities, the White House today called for significant cuts to the one department tasked with serving farm families, rural residents and those struggling with food insecurity," Johnson said.

"Passing the 2018 farm bill was an important, bipartisan accomplishment. Rather than turning right around and proposing cuts to farm programs, the President should be working to build on that success by providing needed additional support for family farmers and ranchers.

"For three years now, President Trump has been calling for cuts to important programs within USDA. Yet for the third straight year, a majority of American farmers and ranchers are expected to lose money farming. Major relief is needed to weather these tough times in agriculture. It's time the President's policy proposals and rhetoric acknowledge the financial pain in farm country."

DETAILS

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said that, "Although the president's 'skinny budget' is historically light on details, there are a few specifics of note:"

"Slashes funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, USDA's only farmer-driven agriculture research program, in half.

▪ Cuts funding for the Food Safety Outreach Program in half, just as the first wave of Food Safety Modernization Act inspections are beginning for the nation's produce farmers.

▪ Eliminates the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program.

▪ Cuts funding for Conservation Technical Assistance by $71 million (10 percent).

▪ Recommends a $75 million increase for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative compared to FY 2019, and an additional $100 million to address aging research infrastructure.

▪ Proposes $25 million will be needed to relocate the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture — a plan widely opposed by food and farm groups, including the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

▪ Reintroduces the Harvest Box proposal, which was widely criticized by anti-hunger and food access organizations when it was first floated in the president's FY 2019 budget."

NSAC said "the proposal also makes several recommendations that would require policy changes and/or affect farm bill mandatory spending," including:

"Eliminates the Conservation Stewardship Program, America's only comprehensive working lands conservation program, and makes cuts to mandatory farm bill funding for other conservation programs.

▪ Cuts $17 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Reforms to federal crop insurance and commodity programs, including:

▪ Reduction of the average premium subsidy for crop insurance from 62 percent to 48 percent;

▪ Limiting commodity, conservation, and crop insurance subsidies to those producers that have an adjusted gross income of $500,000 or less;

▪ Capping underwriting gains at 12 percent;

▪ Tightening commodity payment limits, including eliminating the separate payment limit for peanut producers and limiting eligibility for commodity subsidies to one manager per farm."

"While the budget released today doesn't give us all the details on the president's priorities for FY 2020, the $2.2 billion in cuts targeted to agriculture and food programs sends a clear message that America's farmers and rural communities don't make the list" said NSAC Senior Policy Specialist Wes King.

"Implementation of the farm bill's programs — including new programs like the Local Agriculture Market Program and long-standing programs like SARE and CSP — need adequate funding to do the work mandated by Congress," King said.

"We ask that Congress not turn their backs on the promises of the 2018 farm bill, and that they instead build upon the bill's pledged investments."

NSAC noted that although the group supports Trump's "aims to increase agriculture research funding and make long-overdue reforms to federal crop insurance and commodity programs, we reject his proposal to cut billions in vital USDA programs and services that support our nation's farmers and rural communities, and urge Congress to do the same."

The Supporters of Agricultural Research Foundation applauded the inclusion of increased funding for NIFA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

"The budget requests $500 million in discretionary funding for AFRI, an $85 million increase from FY 2019 enacted levels," the group said. "The competitive process that AFRI uses to award grants applies the best scientific research to the challenges that farmers and consumers face. Funding is based on merit, and proposals are rigorously peer-reviewed."

"Our farmers and producers need science-based solutions to feed the world's growing population," said Thomas Grumbly, president of the SoAR Foundation. "With this increase, our nation's scientists would have the resources they need to conduct research that builds thriving farms and a healthier nation."

AFRI was authorized at $700 million in the 2008, 2014, and 2018 farm bills, but has never received the full amount during the annual appropriations process. The $500 million level, if enacted by Congress, would be the program's highest level since its inception, SoAR said.

FDA FUNDING

The Alliance for a Stronger FDA said it is "quite pleased with the proposed increase in appropriated funding for FDA."

"We thank the administration for its continuing strong support of FDA. The agency will be able to apply new monies to important programs that benefit the American people, as well as hire needed scientific personnel to carry out the FDA's far-ranging mission.

"While we are looking forward to providing more specific analysis when the detailed CJs (congressional justification) come out next week, we can say definitively that the president's request for budget authority (taxpayer-paid) appropriations is $362 million above the FY 19 continuing resolution level and nearly $260 million above the FY 19 final enacted spending level. That is net of the existing and proposed user fee, including tobacco user fees."

MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger said, "This proposal reveals how out of touch this administration is with the realities of every day American people."

"There seems to be no interest in addressing the needs of working American families, including food insecurity," said MAZON President and CEO Abby Leibman.

"True leadership requires moderating political impulses with judgement, wisdom and compassion — all of which are in short supply in this budget proposal.

"On the heels of a government shutdown that revealed the precarious financial circumstance for tens of thousands of federal workers, and an attempt to circumvent the will of Congress by imposing harsh time restrictions on eligibility for SNAP, this budget proposal is the latest in a string of heartless attempts to punish working families and low-income Americans.

"These cuts represent a dangerous and deliberate attack on programs founded to help our nation's most vulnerable meet their basic needs. The proposal clearly reflects this administration's agenda to chip away at the social safety net, undermine vital programs that help struggling American families, and remove the safeguards that keep people from going hungry in this country.

"This administration has been nothing if not consistent in their efforts to punish the poor. Rhetoric and cruel ideology will not keep food on the table — that's why it is the government's responsibility to adequately fund the programs that do so."