Congress cold to President's budget proposal

Agriculture committee leaders dismiss majority of President's budget as it calls for changes when agriculture already has done its part.

President Barack Obama released his funding priorities for his last year in office, and the response from Congress indicates that, yet again, most of it will be considered “dead on arrival.”

Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) criticized the $18 billion in federal crop insurance cuts, saying, “As farmers and ranchers are faced with the daily uncertainties of weather and volatile market conditions, the Obama Administration has once again chosen to attack America’s agriculture producers and their ability to manage risk.”

Both Roberts and his counterpart, House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway (R., Texas), noted that the budget threatens to undermine an already weak economy by dealing a severe blow to farmers and ranchers, who have already suffered a 56% drop in net farm income over the past two years.

RELATED STORY: House Ag Committee says ag has done its part in deficit reduction

"Although the outlook for farm policy remains well under budget and constitutes only about a quarter of 1% of total federal outlays, the Obama Administration could take constructive steps to reduce costs even further in this area by taking long-overdue action to stop high and rising foreign subsidies, tariffs and non-tariff trade barriers that unfairly depress the prices American farmers and ranchers receive in the market and to stop layering new and costly regulations — like (the Environmental Protection Agency’s) waters of the U.S. regulation — on our nation’s farm and ranch families,” Conaway said. "Unfortunately, this final budget proposal again reflects the agenda of a President who is out of touch with the everyday concerns and lives of working families in rural America.”

Even Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) disagreed with the suggestions to make additional cuts to crop insurance, saying, “The 2014 farm bill made significant reforms to the way we provide risk management tools to our farmer and ranchers.  It’s important that we keep the farm bill intact to provide the full five-year certainty promised in that bipartisan bill.”

Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Sen. Thad Cochran (R., Miss.) said his committee will “remain focused on fiscal discipline despite a (fiscal year) 2017 budget from President Obama that relies on more spending and new taxes.” Cochran noted that “there will be little appetite in Congress for mandatory spending that diminishes fiscal discipline and congressional oversight.”

Stabenow did welcome the budget's increased investments in the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and she said she will continue to work toward a reauthorization bill for the agency that realizes the importance of these investments.

Congress has been more likely to pass continuing resolutions to fund the governments in recent years, delaying action ahead of the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said even though this is something the agency has become accustomed to operating under, it could limit the benefits realized with the budget. If Congress waits until January or February (after this year’s elections) to get a budget, it could end up cutting a mission area. Instead of having 12 months to determine how to make any changes, a department only has maybe six.

“It’s important for Congress to focus on the results to people that come from budgets,” Vilsack said.

For the full story on the President's budget, click here.

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