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Trump Will Try Again to Cut USDA, Says Perdue

The Agriculture Department faces large spending cuts, said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Monday while a White House official said President Trump will ask for “one of the largest spending reductions in history” in the upcoming fiscal 2020 budget. Perdue told reporters that he encouraged the administration to submit a package “within the realm of negotiation,” considering Congress rejected outright Trump’s previous budgets.

Perdue also said U.S. officials “will not be bought off” from seeking fundamental reforms in China’s trade practices, despite Beijing’s offer to buy large amounts of U.S. ag exports. Last week, Perdue said China committed to buy 10 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans during a meeting with Trump. “That’s near term, the 2018 crop we have in the bin now,” he said. “The impression I have is it’s imminent.”

Acting White House Budget Director Russ Vought said the 2020 budget package will meet Trump’s goal of cutting federal spending by 5% “by means of one of the largest spending reductions in history” in so-called discretionary spending. Military spending will rise, Vought said in an essay at RealClear Politics.

“There will be a conservative budget,” said Perdue when asked about Vought’s comments. “We’ve done our best to advocate for farmers.” The proposals for USDA will exceed 5%, he said, but declined to elaborate. Asked if big cuts in food stamps or crop insurance would be on the table, Perdue replied, “I didn’t say that.”

A year ago, Trump proposed a 33% cut in federally subsidized crop insurance, along with rolling back funding for agricultural research and rural economic development. The White House proposed America’s Harvest Box of processed and canned foods for SNAP households that would replace half of the benefits they use to buy food. The Harvest Box was the centerpiece of a proposed $213 billion in SNAP cuts, 30% of funding for the coming decade. None of the ideas gained traction on Capitol Hill.

“It would be better if we got back to a discussion,” said Perdue. When he was governor of Georgia, he recalled, there was a back-and-forth between legislators and the executive branch over budget details. “Right now, it seems to be totally ignored.”

The administration began talking of a 5% cut in spending last fall.

Perdue has said he hoped the Harvest Box would get a second look from Congress or perhaps be authorized as a test project.

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