Trump reviving his border wall fight with new budget request

President Donald Trump is reviving his border wall fight, preparing a new budget that will seek $8.6 billion for his signature project, impose steep spending cuts to agriculture and other domestic programs, and set the stage for another fiscal battle.

Fresh off the longest government shutdown in history, Trump’s 2020 proposal, released by the Office of Management and Budget March 11, shows he is eager to confront Congress again to boost defense spending and cut $2.7 trillion in nondefense spending over a decade.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture budget request for fiscal year 2020 is about $22.4 billion for discretionary budget authority to fund programs and operating expenses, approximately $5 billion less than 2019. This includes funding for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; Rural Development; Forest Service; food safety; research; and conservation activities.

The request also reintroduces the Harvest Box proposal, which received widespread derision when it was introduced last year.

Funding for mandatory programs is estimated to be $127.5 billion, $11 billion more than 2019. USDA is requesting a total of $123 billion in 2020 available funds. Compared to fiscal year 2019, this amount represents a $38 billion decrease.

The cuts would come through various reductions, including elimination of the Conservation Stewardship Program, reduction of the average premium subsidy for crop insurance from 62 percent to 48 percent, limiting commodity, conservation, and crop insurance subsidies to those producers that have an adjusted gross income of $500,000 or less—down from $900,000, capping underwriting gains at 12 percent, and tightening commodity payment limits, including eliminating the separate payment limit for peanut producers and limiting eligibility for commodity subsidies to one manager per farm.

USDA is projected to spend $140 billion in FY 2019, which breaks down to $117 billion in mandatory programs, such as nutrition and commodity programs, and $23 billion in discretionary programs appropriated by Congress for specific department programs.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement, “Our economy is booming, and unemployment is the lowest it’s been in decades. While the agriculture community still faces challenges, the Trump economy is creating new opportunities for all Americans to thrive. President Trump’s budget is fiscally conservative and lays out a vision for an accountable federal government that cuts spending.

“With our national debt soaring to over $22 trillion, we can no longer kick the can down the road. The time to act is now and USDA will actively do its part in reducing federal spending.

“We are stewards of other people’s money and must be diligent in spending it more carefully than we would our own when it comes to delivering our programs. At the same time, we will maintain a safety net for farmers, ranchers, foresters, producers, and people who need assistance in feeding their families.”

The wall with Mexico punctuated Trump’s campaign for the White House, and it’s expected to again be featured in his 2020 re-election effort. He used to say Mexico would pay for it, but Mexico has refused to do so.

Congressional reaction

Washington Republicans praised the proposed budget. One leader did so with so with a caveat, another didn’t.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-KS, who has announced he will not run for re-election in 2020, said, “I applaud the president’s efforts to rein in deficit spending and to make investments in key areas of rural development and agriculture research. I look forward to looking at the details.

“However, the 2018 farm bill received overwhelming bipartisan support in the Congress because it provided certainty and predictability to farmers and ranchers who have struggled with a tough economy for some time. Now is not the time to be making changes to the vital risk management tools that are essential to producers in order to withstand this tough period in the agricultural economy. We must first allow the farm bill to be fully implemented.”

House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Mike Conaway, R-TX, commended Trump for proposing a budget that “prioritizes our military and the safety of our nation after devastating cuts under the Obama administration.

“On agriculture, as the president knows, the farm safety net accounts for less than a quarter of 1 percent—a rounding error by Washington standards. So when the chips are down we must keep our promise to farmers and ranchers and rural America made under the five-year farm bill, and I fully expect the president to be onboard.

“I also worry that the Democrats’ socialist agenda would not only spell ruin for our farmers and ranchers but for all Americans. I will continue to oppose their radical policies and stand with the men and women of rural America.”

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Leading Congressional Agriculture Democrats immediately rejected the proposal.

Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, said, “Just months after the president signed the historic bipartisan farm bill into law, his budget proposal rolls back much of this critical support for agriculture and rural America. The steep cuts to the USDA would jeopardize the Department’s ability to implement the farm bill at a time when farmers are struggling with economic instability and trade uncertainty.

“I strongly oppose actions that undermine the bipartisan farm bill and I will lead the bipartisan effort to ensure Congress rejects this budget, just as we have done in the previous proposals.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-MN, said, “The president’s budget request is a road map for how to make things worse for farmers, ranchers and those who live in rural communities: $26 billion in cuts to crop insurance; $9 billion in cuts to successful, voluntary conservation programs; $5 billion in cuts to Section 32 programs that help purchase commodities in times of need; $8 billion in cuts to programs that help ranchers recover grazing lands hurt by drought; yet another attempt to cut SNAP; elimination of the Rural Energy for America and Rural Economic Development programs and billions in other cuts.

“This proposal tells us one of two things: either the White House doesn’t understand why these programs are important, or they don’t care. What’s more, all of these shortsighted cuts are second and third attempts to revisit policy proposals that were rejected in the farm bill negotiations. This budget was concocted by a bunch of ideologues who can’t see what’s clearly going on in the farm economy. The good news is this budget is going nowhere in Congress, where the bipartisan farm bill passed with 369 votes.”

Farm groups react

The American Association of Crop Insurers, Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau, Crop Insurance Professionals Association, Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, National Association of Professional Insurance Agents, and National Crop Insurance Services released a joint statement on the proposal, saying, “We are disappointed that OMB has targeted the federal crop insurance program for budget cuts just months after its importance was reaffirmed by the passage of the 2018 farm bill. This is a shortsighted proposal that, if adopted, would undermine a critical safety net for farmers when they need it most during this time of increasing economic difficulties and challenges in rural America.

“OMB’s proposed budget cuts will make crop insurance unaffordable and unavailable for many farmers. We cannot balance the federal budget on the backs of America’s farmers and ranchers. We urge Congress to reject these destructive cuts.”

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said, “There is a very clear disconnect between President Trump’s priorities and the economic realities facing family farmers, ranchers, and rural communities. Despite the rapid decline in the farm economy, additional damages from self-inflicted trade disruptions, increasing demand for credit, overloaded farm hotlines, and deteriorating infrastructure in rural communities, the White House called for significant cuts to the one department tasked with serving farm families, rural residents and those struggling with food insecurity.

“Passing the 2018 farm bill was an important, bipartisan accomplishment. Rather than turning right around and proposing cuts to farm programs, the President should be working to build on that success by providing needed additional support for family farmers and ranchers.”

National Association of Wheat Growers President and Lavon, Texas, wheat farmer Ben Scholz said, “While NAWG continues to review the budget proposal in more detail, we do see that it proposes drastic cuts to some key programs for farmers. Congress just passed a farm bill by historical margins from both sides of the aisle which rejected many of these misguided cuts to agriculture that are proposed in the President’s budget request.

“The administration’s 2020 proposal will make crop insurance policies more expensive for farmers when input costs already remain high and commodity prices are low. This additional cost could result in many growers not having insurance and may make it difficult for them to stay in business. NAWG will continue to impress upon Congress the difficult economic conditions in wheat country and thus why these programs shouldn’t be cut through the budget and appropriations process.”

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or [email protected]. Associated Press Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.