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268186

Farm Sector Shrugs off Trump Proposals for Farm Bill Cuts

One of the truisms of Washington, repeated frequently by lawmakers, is that Congress – not the President – writes the farm bill. With that in mind, the largest U.S. farm group and the crop insurance industry say President Trump’s proposals to slash crop insurance funding and to deny farm payments to the wealthiest producers will have no lasting impact.

Congress ignored similar proposals for big USDA cuts last year, said Dale Moore, public policy director for the American Farm Bureau Federation. The administration package “is going to provoke a discussion at a certain level” but “this is a budget document…the first step” in a long process. A half-dozen insurance groups said the proposal to cut crop insurance spending by one third ran counter to administration statements of support for the program.

President Trump won a standing ovation at the Farm Bureau convention last month by saying he supported a farm bill “that delivers for all of you. And I support a bill that includes crop insurance.” The budget proposal for a $26 billion cut over 10 years was “a little bit of a surprise,” said Moore but did not take the farm group off guard. The White House budget office, after all, has pushed for changes in the taxpayer-funded program.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts told the Washington Post that Trump had promised him not to cut the program. “I thought we had an agreement,” said Roberts. “I know it’s [the Office of Management and Budget’s] position that these are reforms. They’re not reforms. They’re cuts.”

The administration proposed lowering subsidy rates for premiums on almost all crop insurance policies; lowering the guaranteed rate-to-return for insurers; denying farm subsidies, insurance subsidies, and conservation payments to people with more than $500,000 in adjusted gross income; allowing only one person per farm to qualify for subsidies as a manager; eliminating two land stewardship programs; and reducing the rental rate for land idled in the Conservation Reserv Program. Altogether, the cuts top $47 billion, according to the budget hawk policy group Taxpayers for Common Sense.

“While this budget request does not go far enough in reforming the duplication between federally subsidized crop insurance and commodity programs, it’s a move in the right direction,” said the group.

Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, said the $500,000 income ceiling would affect few people. “In an ordinary year, are we still going to cover 98% of farmers with that, as I point out to all my farm friends, when you have a bad year, your AGI will drop below $500,000, and you would qualify for some of the benefits.”

In a joint statement, the insurance groups said the White House proposals “would make crop insurance unaffordable and unavailable for many farmers.”

Roberts and House Agriculture Chairman Michael Conaway said the budget package “will not prevent us” from maintaining a strong farm safety net. The senior Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), said, “If taken seriously, this budget would make it impossible for Congress to pass a farm bill this year.”

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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