Trump to target agriculture spending in FY18 budget (via Agri-Pulse Communications)

President Trump releases his full fiscal 2018 budget this week and it’s expected to propose big cuts in crop insurance, conservation assistance and a number of agricultural and rural development programs.

The budget, which expands on the “skinny” budget plan issued in March, will be released on Tuesday. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue will be in the hot seat the very next day when he faces the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which writes the annual spending bill for USDA, the Food and Drug Administration and Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Multiple sources told Agri-Pulse last week that the budget will propose cuts in crop insurance. And the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said the budget also would whack rural development programs, including Value-Added Grants, rural housing assistance, and cut $100 million from the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, which funds university research projects.

“The one bright spot in the President’s budget proposal is that it is just that – a proposal,” said Greg Fogel, NSAC’s policy director.

Many, if not most of the cuts, especially to farm bill programs, have little chance of passing Congress, especially with the House and Senate Agriculture committees wanting to maintain funding levels as they prepare to write the next bill. Lawmakers were already downplaying the importance of the proposals even before they were released.

“When the administration sends over their budget they’re looking for programs to cut to try to get their numbers to all add up. We’re not looking to take exactly what they recommend and running with it,” the chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., told Agri-Pulse.

Congress has typically trimmed from select farm bill programs – the Environmental Quality Incentives Program being a typical target – to shore up other priorities, but Aderholt said he didn’t expect lawmakers to go beyond that this year.

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, pledged to continue defending crop insurance and other farm programs. He said it’s no time to cut agriculture spending, given the downturn in the farm economy. “The president wanted a robust farm bill and we intend to get that done. Obviously, resources will be the next big issue to come to grips with,” he said.

The FDA’s new commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, will appear before Aderholt’s subcommittee on Thursday.

The March budget proposal dealt only with “discretionary” spending programs, those whose spending levels are determined by annual appropriations bill. The expanded version will include programs in which the spending levels are mandated by the farm bill and other laws.

Also this week, the House will take up legislation aimed at easing permit requirements for pesticide usage. The Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act would reverse a 2009 appellate court ruling in a case involving the National Cotton Council that forced the Environmental Protection Agency to require pesticide applicators to get permits to spray in or near “navigable waters” as defined in the Clean Water Act.

“My district is home to many hard-working farmers, so I know this issue quite well,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who represents a portion of California’s Central Valley, said on the House floor Friday. “This bill will reduce red tape that makes it more costly for farmers to protect their crops and our nation’s food supply.”

Similar efforts to reverse the 2009 court decision have died in the Senate.

Health care reform is likely to join Trump’s budget in dominating the attention of Congress this week as lawmakers prepare to leave for their week-long Memorial Day recess.

On Wednesday, the Congressional Budget Office releases its analysis of the House-passed health care reform bill. GOP leaders have yet to actually forward the legislation to the Senate for consideration while they waited for the CBO report, which will include estimates of how many people would lose insurance coverage under the measure.

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