Friday, May 26, 2017

Ag secretary defends USDA budget cuts, sort of

Perdue spoke as aides worked. (Progressive Farmer photo)
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue struggled to defend President Trump's budget cuts for the Department of Agriculture while testifying before the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Wednesday, Jerry Hagstrom reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer.

"Perdue's written testimony focused on the provisions for fiscal year 2018 and not on the White House proposal to make cuts to nearly every Agriculture Department and to cut more than 5,000 employees department-wide," Hagstrom reports.

Perdue told lawmakers, "We do have a dilemma in this country of how we right-size the budget." However, he didn't disagree with many statements by subcommittee members in favor of USDA programs.

Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) asked Perdue about the proposed 36 percent cut in crop insurance. Perdue replied, "You won't get any disagreement with me on the value of crop insurance." The move away from direct payments in the 2014 Farm Bill was "good," Perdue said, while the budget "retools" crop insurance with means testing, Hagstrom writes. Crop insurance and other farm programs will be determined by the next Farm Bill, Perdue said. He noted that his job as agriculture secretary is to consult with members as they develop the bill.

The harshest criticism came from Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), a former chair of the subcommittee, over the administration's proposal for states to pay 25 percent of the benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. "I will be direct about my view of this budget document, and my hope is that this budget document is dead on arrival. Because I believe it cruel, I believe it heartless, and I believe it inhumane," DeLauro said. Perdue told DeLauro to "notice, the FY18 budget fully funds the SNAP as it has been. The legislative proposal going forward is obviously something you and all of your members of Congress will deal with and have your stamp upon that. I want to make the distinction."

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) defended the requirement that states pay 25 percent of the benefits. Harris said he was glad the administration is "restoring sanity to the program."

When a reporter attempted to ask Perdue about cuts to farm programs after the meeting, Hagstrom reports that Perdue smiled and said, "I support the president's budget."

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