Trump's Proposed Agriculture Budget Cuts Alarm Key Texas Republicans

WASHINGTON -- Key Texas Republicans with oversight of agricultural issues were already quietly perturbed by President Donald Trump’s fierce opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement and the time it took him to nominate an agriculture secretary.Now the Republican president, swept into office with the help of rural voters, is looking to slash the federal agriculture budget, raising further alarms about how his administration will handle the issues most important to America’s farmers. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Midland, voiced concern Thursday over Trump’s proposal to cut discretionary spending at the U.S. Department of Agriculture by $4.7 billion, a 21 percent decrease to $17.9 billion.Only the Environmental Protection Agency and State Department were slated for deeper proportional cuts.The significant cuts, Conaway warned in a written statement, “could hamper some vital work of the Department.” Net farm income has decreased by 50 percent over just the last four years, the Midland Republican noted, placing the agriculture community in an already precarious position."America's farmers and ranchers are struggling, and we need to be extremely careful not to exacerbate these conditions,” he said.The proposed cuts for the USDA would halt funding for rural clean water initiatives and development programs, decreasing county-level staff and some statistical services offered by the agency that many farmers rely on for their planning.Rep. Jodey Arrington, a new member of the agriculture committee in his first term in Congress, said “there are plenty of places to cut some fat out of government,” a sentiment long shared by conservatives across Capitol Hill.Arrington worked with federal agencies during the George W. Bush administration and said that all departments, including agriculture, could absorb budget cuts by trimming administrative overhead and improving efficiency.But the Lubbock Republican, whose district is heavily dependent on the agricultural economy, is wary about targeting the USDA.“In every agency, there are programs that are unnecessary and there are cuts that can be made responsibly across the board,” he said. “But our safety net has to cushion and consider the unevenness of the international playing field.”Fortunately for agriculture watchers, the White House’s overall budget proposal appeared dead on arrival in the Capitol, with congressional Republicans panning a whole host of aspects in the blueprint.House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, reiterated his view Thursday that the $603 billion Trump request for defense is not enough “to do the things the president wants to do” in terms of building out the military.Conaway cautioned against getting too worked up about the proposed cuts, noting that this is just "the start of a longer, larger process.”But the signal Trump is sending by even suggesting such drastic reductions for the agricultural agency may continue to worry the industry. “Agriculture has done more than its fair share,” Conaway said, highlighting billions of dollars in savings his committee squeezed out in the most recent farm bill in 2014.Cautious Republican concerns paled in comparison to unreserved Democratic pushback to the president’s proposal."I strongly oppose the Trump administration's proposed budget cuts to programs that are critical to farmers, ranchers and families in small towns across America," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Senate agriculture committee, in a written statement.Because the president’s budget offers a mostly top-level outline, it did not give details about which services could be cut. The changes would not affect mandatory spending, meaning the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- also known as food stamps -- and crop subsidies for farmers would go untouched.But the elimination or reduction of programs focused on supporting rural communities could be in the offing. “There are some hard choices that are going to have to be made over at the USDA,” Conaway told The Dallas Morning News late Thursday.  Continue reading...

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