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Proposed USDA cuts concern Iowa lawmakers

Mar 17, 2017

By Ed Tibbetts, Quad City Times


DAVENPORT – President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture drew bipartisan concern Thursday, even as Republicans praised him for tackling spending and Democrats accused him of abandoning education, infrastructure and other priorities.

The White House released an outline of the president’s 2018 budget Thursday, proposing a 21 percent cut to the USDA. That would shrink the department’s budget to $17.9 billion, a $4.7 billion cut.

The plan would eliminate a $498 million water and wastewater loan program and reduce staffing at USDA service center agencies in order to streamline county office operations. It also says it would save $95 million in what it called duplicative and underperforming programs in the Rural Business and Cooperative Service, which helps with business development and job creation in rural areas.

“This budget cuts investments in programs that have a proven record of creating jobs and growing the economy,” U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, said.

The cuts would affect only what are known as discretionary programs, the funding for which Congress can change through the budget process. They would not affect most commodity and conservation programs or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is better known as food stamps. That would require a change in the law. The budget does cut $200 million from a nutrition program for women, infants and children.

Loebsack also pointed to proposed cuts in grants for teacher training, subsidies for rural airports and a program to help low-income Americans pay their heating bills.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said she was “troubled by how dramatic his proposed cuts are to programs across the USDA that our rural communities rely on.”

However, she did praise the president for focusing on the country’s debt, saying, “Washington cannot continue the excesses of the past …”

The proposal also would cut spending at the EPA by 31 percent and the Department of Education by nearly 14 percent.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, did not comment on the proposed USDA cuts in a statement his office provided Thursday. He said “the president is right to take a close look at spending.” He said the budget proposals “aren’t specific enough to know exactly how Iowans would be affected.”

He and others said they would scrutinize the budget plan carefully.

Meanwhile, Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill. said the budget plan “proves President Trump is breaking his promise to the hardworking men and women of America’s heartland.”

She predicted the cuts would lead to job losses and fewer opportunities in small towns.

In the budget submission, the administration said the USDA’s core missions are maintained while “eliminating duplicative, redundant or lower priority programs where the Federal role competes with the private sector or other levels of government.”

The White House already has announced plans to boost defense spending by $54 billion in 2018. The budget blueprint says that the plan insists on $54 billion in cuts to non-defense programs and that the government is “going to do more with less.”

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