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Ryan's budget calls for $31 billion in farm program savings

House budget proposal calls for SNAP improvements, end to direct payments and changes to crop insurance, but leaves decisions on how to House Ag Committee.

Unlike previous budget proposals from House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wisc.), his proposal for fiscal year 2014 called on the House Agriculture to institute reforms to save taxpayers $31 billion. Ryan stopped short of making specific recommendations of how to do so, instead said he will leave those decisions up to the committee.

In his plan, Ryan noted that the American agricultural sector has remained a strong economic-success story and its prosperity should be celebrated. However, "taxpayers should not finance payments for a business sector that is more capable of thriving on its own," his plan noted.

The budget plan noted what Ryan said was the "flawed structure" of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which encourages states to receive more money if they enroll more people in the program.

To remain viable and to deliver on its important mission, Ryan said SNAP must end the increased abuse seen today. "It must encourage states to reduce fraud. In so doing, it can help feed the hungry—without lining the pockets of those who abuse the system," the plan noted.

Ryan's budget called on the House Agriculture Committee to revisit current farm support programs, such as direct payments and the current structure of the crop insurance programs.

"With farm profitability—and deficits—continuing at high levels, it is time to adjust support to this industry to reflect economic realities," his plan said. "Recognizing that the Agriculture Committee is responsible for implementing these reductions, and to maintain flexibility for the Committee, this proposal does not dictate the specific changes to the programs in under the Committee’s jurisdiction. These reforms will save taxpayers $31 billion over the next decade."

House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) welcomed Ryan's budget outline which would balance the budget in 10 years. He added the ag committee remains committed to being a part of the solution in addressing the nation’s debt crisis. 

"Last year, we developed a reform-minded, fiscally responsible farm bill that contributed to deficit reduction and we will continue on that same course this year," Lucas said. "We will consider the suggestions contained in Chairman Ryan’s budget, as is customary for the Agriculture Committee to consider a variety of viewpoints when crafting comprehensive legislation."   

Ranking member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) was less welcoming to Ryan's proposal. He criticized Ryan for not putting forth an actual budget, but rather a "political messaging document" that falls short of forcing the tough choices needed to get the nation back on solid financial footing.

Peterson said last year the committee showed it was possible to find budget savings in a bipartisan fashion by making balanced cuts across farm bill programs. "If the House Republicans do take the Ryan budget numbers seriously, I don’t see how they can be serious about passing long-term farm policy this year. If these are the budget priorities for the House Majority, agriculture might best be served by again extending the current farm bill," Peterson said.

In previous budgets, Ryan has targeted crop insurance as a means of budgetary savings. A coalition of more than 40 commodity groups, lending organizations, and other agricultural stakeholders led by the Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau sent a letter to Lucas and Peterson March 12, the same day Ryan's budget was released, urging Congress to defend a strong farm safety net.

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