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Capitol Hill Defenders of Crop Insurance Repulse White House Attack
The leaders of the Senate and House Agriculture committees were polite and coolly dismissive of a White House proposal to slash the crop insurance program by one third at the same time they write the new farm bill. “We are committed to maintaining a strong safety net for agriculture producers during these times of low prices and uncertain markets and to continuing to improve our nation’s nutrition programs,” said Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Representative Michael Conaway (R-TX) in an icy rebuttal. “This budget . . . will not prevent us from doing that job.”
Crop insurance was a lightning rod in the 2014 Farm Bill, and critics are lined up for another chance this year. The biggest target is the Harvest Price Option; three fourths of policies include it. The White House tried to eliminate premium subsidies for HPO policies last year. This time, it proposed lowering subsidy rates for most policies as well as denying premium subsidies to the wealthiest producers.
“The messaging is consistent. There are things they don’t like about the crop insurance program,” said Dale Moore, Farm Bureau policy director. It was “a little bit of a surprise” to see the new proposals a month after President Trump told the Farm Bureau convention that “I support a (farm) bill that includes crop insurance.” In the end, said Moore, Congress writes the farm bill and the administration offers suggestions.
Roberts has been adamant for months that the farm bill will not cut crop insurance. Conaway is equally steely on the issue. “Our mantra is ‘Don’t screw up crop insurance,’ ” he said at an industry convention. Roberts told The Washington Post that Trump promised him not to cut crop insurance. “I know it’s OMB’s (the budget office) position that these are reforms. They’re not. They’re cuts.”
It’s been a decade or more since an administration made a detailed farm bill proposal, so Trump’s budget package, released February 12, is the most comprehensive list of White House objectives. As with crop insurance, the administration would cut off commodity and conservation payments to producers with more than $500,000 adjusted gross income.
“In an ordinary year, we are still going to cover 98% of farmers with that,” said White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. “As I tell all my farm friends, when you have a bad year, your AGI (adjusted gross income) will drop below $500,000 and you would qualify for some of the benefits.”
The White House also would eradicate the green payment Conservation Stewardship Program and reduce payments for Conservation Reserve Program land to 80% of the local rental rate.
The White House endorsed a reform sponsored by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) limiting farms to one manager who is eligible for subsidies. “Giving money to nonfarmers doesn’t help rural America,” said Grassley, who told reporters, “Congress is not going to enact any big cut to crop insurance.”
This article was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent, nonprofit news organization producing investigative reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.