The Senate Agriculture Committee announced it would hold a hearing on the nomination of former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue for Secretary of Agriculture on March 23. The committee had been waiting on Perdue’s nomination documents and the required paperwork from the FBI and Office of Government Ethics. Under an agreement with the OGE, Perdue has promised to move his assets into a blind trust in which he and his wife will not control or benefit.
Trump budget cuts USDA 21%
President Trump submitted his fiscal year 2018 budget, “America First – A Budget to Make America Great Again,” which covers only discretionary spending. Defense spending is increased by $52 billion, along with $2.6 billion for the Mexican border wall and $1.4 billion increase for school choice programs. These increases are offset by cuts in discretionary spending in the other federal departments and agencies. The departments receiving the largest cuts are Environmental Protection Agency (31%), State (29%), USDA (21%), Labor (21%) Health and Human Services (18%), Army Corps of Engineers (17%), Commerce (16%), and Education (14%).
USDA’s discretionary programs which account for approximately 18% of USDA’s overall budget would be cut $4.7 billion or 21% under the proposed budget. The budget would make significant cuts in USDA’s field staff, research, rural development, and international food aid. The proposed budget has limited details regarding the cuts, but those highlighted include:
- USDA Local Service Centers - Unspecified staff reductions will take place at USDA service centers around the nation to “reflect reduced rural development workload, and encourage private sector conservation planning.”
- McGovern-Dole International Food for Education – Eliminates the school feeding program ($200 million) which provides food aid to children living in poverty overseas.
- Water and Wastewater – The Water and Wastewater loan and grant program which is for communities with a population of 10,000 or less to help with rural water and waste infrastructure would be eliminated ($500 million).
- Rural Business and Cooperative Service - $95 million reduction.
- WIC – The Women, Infants and Children nutrition assistance program would be reduced by $200 million.
- Food for Peace – The Food for Peace (PL-480) program would be transferred to the State Department. The budget does not reflect what would happen to the program.
- Agriculture Research Service – ARS may face cuts to focus research on the “highest priority agriculture and food issues, such as increasing farm productivity, sustaining natural resources and food safety and nutrition.”
- The administration’s full FY ’18 budget is expected to be sent to Congress in early May which will provide details on the administration’s tax and mandatory spending proposals.
Ag trade issue at USTR nominee’s hearing
During Robert Lighthizer’s confirmation hearing for U.S. Trade Representatives a bipartisan group of Senators on the Senate Finance Committee reminded Lighthizer of the critical importance of trade to U.S. agriculture and the importance of the Mexican market for U.S. corn, wheat, rice, pork, beef, dairy, sorghum and other commodities. Senators wanted to know since President Trump has pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership what is the administration’s plans regarding bilateral trade agreements with Japan and the other TPP nations. Lighthizer says if he’s confirmed he would make the expansion of agriculture exports a priority and he would prioritize moving forward on bilateral trade agreements with Japan and other countries. The questions reflect a growing concern among farmers, ranchers, and agribusiness with the administration’s trade agenda. These concerns were also raised at the White House this week when a group of agricultural representatives met with White House staff to discuss the importance of trade to U.S. agriculture and the Trump trade agenda.
Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) has introduced legislation, H.R. 861, which would terminate the Environmental Protection Agency effective Dec. 31, 2018.