Obama agriculture budget is mostly more of the same, but not all | TSLN.com

Obama agriculture budget is mostly more of the same, but not all

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today unveiled a fiscal year 2016 budget proposal, the last one of the Obama administration, that mostly offered the same proposals as in the past but contained a few surprises.

Total mandatory spending under the proposal would be $130 billion, down slightly due to lower participation in the food stamp program and some reductions in spending under the Commodity Credit Corporation, Vilsack said.

The budget also proposes $23.4 billion in discretionary funding for the Agriculture Department, a 7 percent decrease from fiscal 2016 enacted levels.

Reactions were along the usual lines that have developed over the administration's seven years in office.

The administration once again proposed a big cut to the crop insurance program, $18 billion in over 10 years, that would reduce by 10 percentage points the level at which taxpayers subsidize farmers' insurance premiums enrolled in the harvest price option program, and eliminate certain levels of prevented planting coverage.

Vilsack defended the crop insurance cuts as a response to criticism from the inspector general's office over how USDA manages the prevented planting provision.

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On the post harvest loss issue, Vilsack noted that USDA pays 62 percent of the premium and that the administration believes that since crop insurance is a partnership between the government and farmers, "We think it makes more sense that it be closer to 50-50."

Vilsack also said if the American people were surveyed on the subject "I would be surprised if there is not support for the administration position."

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, all denounced the administration budget.

"President Obama's final budget proposal contains all manner of new spending and tax increases, and a troubling reliance on mandatory spending to skirt spending limits," Cochran said.

"There will be little appetite in Congress for mandatory spending that diminishes fiscal discipline and congressional oversight."

"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," Roberts said.

"The president is hitting rural America where it hurts most, and all of this is occurring at a time when farm income is projected to decline 56 percent in the past three years." (See story below)

Conaway added, "The harmful changes to U.S. farm policy contained in the Obama administration budget come on the heels of attempts by the administration last year to kill federal crop insurance."

"Although the outlook for farm policy remains well under budget and constitutes only about a quarter of 1 percent of total federal outlays," Conaway said, "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 EPA's Waters of the U.S. regulation, on our nation's farm and ranch families."

Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., praised the budget, except for the crop insurance provision.

"President Obama has been a steadfast champion for American agriculture, rural communities, and families of all walks of life," Stabenow said in a news release.

"This budget request continues that leadership by calling for an expansion of many key areas of the farm bill like food and agriculture research that support our growing bio-economy, the use of clean energy technologies, and local food systems," Stabenow said.

"This budget proposal would also put a stop to the recent trend of cutting mandatory farm bill conservation programs that help farmers, ranchers, and landowners be the best stewards of their land," she said.

"This budget request also emphasizes the important investments made in our bipartisan child nutrition bill that passed unanimously out of committee in January," she added.

"That smart, balanced reauthorization moves us forward with science-based nutrition policies while also ensuring children and families have access to food year-round. It's time the Senate brings this important bill for a vote"

But she added, "While this budget request moves us forward on many fronts, I disagree with the president's suggestion that we make additional cuts to crop insurance. 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."

The Environmental Working Group and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition praised the crop insurance provisions.

The budget also included the proposal to change how fighting the biggest forest fires are financed, as well as the proposal to provide free summer meals to all children who quality for free and reduced school meals, which would eventually cost $12 billion.

In addition to the previously announced doubling of funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, a competitive grant program, the USDA's Agricultural Research Service would get $1.3 billion, an amount roughly level with its 2016 funding.

"We are very pleased that the budget request includes increased funding for both the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, from $350 million to $375 million in discretionary spending, and the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, from $24.7 million to $30 million," NSAC said.

The administration proposed only a $26 million increase in funding for the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

The administration also proposed charging $166 million in fees to help FDA implement FSMA — an idea that has been rejected on Capitol Hill for years.

American Frozen Food Institute Interim President Joseph Clayton today said, "The frozen food and beverage community is disappointed that the administration is placing greater significance on new user fees, which have been repeatedly rejected by Congress. We urge Congress to again reject these new user fees and provide sufficient funding for FDA food safety activities through the Congressional appropriations process."

The overall budget also proposes a reduction in spending for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is likely to displease farm groups that want locks and dams rebuilt so that they can ship agricultural products more efficiently.

NSAC praised the budget for proposing an increase in funding for outreach to socially disadvantaged and veteran producers and for not making any cuts to conservation programs.

"This week marks the two-year anniversary of the 2014 farm bill being signed into law," NSAC said in a news release.

"The House and Senate Agriculture committees made tough decisions during that process and ultimately cut over $4 billion dollars over 10 years from conservation programs," NSAC said.

"The president's 2017 budget request rightly recognizes that the business of re-writing farm bill conservation programs should be left for the next farm bill debate. NSAC will urge congressional appropriators to reach a similar consensus."

–The Hagstrom Report