Senate chairman dismisses Trump budget

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, June 2, 2017

GREAT FALLS, Mont. — The Trump administration’s budget proposal for agriculture won’t go far in Congress, Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts predicted today.

At the 2017 Montana Ag Summit here, Roberts (R-Kan.) offered a spirited defense of crop insurance, which the administration proposes to cut along with many other farm programs for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

“We’re not going to do what the budget says we should do according to Mr. Mulvaney,” Roberts said, referring to former Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The administration has proposed cutting federal crop insurance subsidies by about 36 percent over a decade. Subsidies would be capped at $40,000 a year.

Other proposals include a 20.5 percent cut across the Department of Agriculture, including conservation programs and county-level operations. Around 5,000 full-time positions could be eliminated through attrition and other means, USDA has said.

In an address to several hundred attendees at the Great Falls event, Roberts didn’t comment specifically on those aspects of the budget. He has told reporters that agriculture, broadly, has done more than its fair share of reducing government spending.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue also spoke to the conference today, and he has been touring Montana sites with Roberts and the event’s sponsor, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.). Perdue has defended the budget, but has reminded lawmakers that officials crafted it without his help before he was confirmed and that he’ll implement whatever spending plan Congress dictates.

In his speech, Perdue said he would take a “tough love” approach to crop insurance, supporting it for natural disasters but discouraging farmers from using it as a financial crutch.

“Let’s face it, you don’t buy insurance on your house hoping it will burn down, do you?” he said.

Roberts had only praise for Perdue, whom he credited for traveling extensively in his five weeks on the job, reaching 10 states so far.

“He’s just been moving ever since,” Roberts said.

Crop insurance runs into criticism from some environmental groups, which say the subsidies are too generous and encourage farmers to plant crops they wouldn’t otherwise on marginal land.

With Congress cutting direct payment programs in recent years, however, crop insurance has emerged as a backbone of farm policy.

Roberts said crop insurance is the most important risk management tool the government manages, and he downplayed the significance of the Trump budget as he and other leaders move toward the 2018 farm bill.

“I don’t think we’ve considered one seriously since Reagan,” Roberts said, although he added, “We want to know where the president will go.”

When he received the budget request, Roberts said, he told his staff, “Just pick up the damn thing and throw it back over the transom.”