Vice Chairman Leahy Statement On The FY 18 Request For The U.S. Department Of Agriculture

Chairman Hoeven, congratulations on your new role leading this Subcommittee. We have worked together on the Senate Agriculture Committee, and our states understand the importance of agriculture to our economies and rural communities. Of course, as a top barley producer, North Dakota plays an important part in Vermont’s award-winning craft beer industry, and as the country’s top wheat producer, North Dakota grows much of the wheat that goes into the specialty flours at Vermont’s King Arthur Flour.

Secretary Perdue, thank you for being here today. We have a lot to discuss, not the least of which is the topic of today’s hearing – the President’s budget proposal for the Department of Agriculture.  This agency touches the lives of every American in many ways that include, but go far beyond, farming itself. That is why this Committee and the Congress must thoroughly examine and debate your Department’s budget and ensure that it meets the needs of the American people.  Unfortunately, from what I can see, it does not.

This budget is not in the best interests of the country.  It does not reflect the real priorities and values of the American people.  It is unbalanced, needlessly provocative, cruel, and appallingly shortsighted.

You have testified before Congress that the new motto of the Department of Agriculture is “Do Right and Feed Everyone.” But this budget proposal does neither of those things. It does not do right by the American people, our rural communities, the most vulnerable among us, or our farmers. It fails to meet the real nutrition needs of millions of people both here in this country and abroad.

I am a former Chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, a distinction that I share with Chairman Cochran. On that Committee, I spent countless hours working on the 2014 Farm Bill, and the Farm Bills that preceded it. So I am very concerned that the Trump administration’s budget targets the Farm Bill directly for $231 billion in cuts. We worked together on a bipartisan basis in our Committee and with the House to craft a bipartisan, five-year rural economic development plan.  This bipartisan, collaborative approach has been the rule for each of the eight Farm Bills on which I have worked.

The Senate and House Agriculture Committees have begun working on the next Farm Bill, which is due prior to the end of next year. It is alarming to see this budget target the Farm Bill for such steep cuts and sweeping programmatic changes.  This budget proposal seeks to completely re-write the Farm Bill outside of the authorizing committee’s bipartisan process. Opening the Farm Bill to cut these programs must be off the table in the FY 2018 appropriations bill.

It is my sincere hope that Congress will reject the President’s FY18 budget proposal for the USDA.  This budget would increase hunger in each of our states and around the world. It would undermine rural jobs and businesses in communities in which unemployment is already far too high. We can, and must, do better for the most vulnerable among us, be they the millions in Africa on the verge of famine or the 82,000 Vermonters families who rely on 3SquaresVT or SNAP for nutrition relief, or our farmers who rely on crop insurance to mitigate risk in a rapidly changing climate.

Our domestic nutrition and feeding programs, farm, research, conservation, and rural development programs should not be slashed or treated as a slush fund to support increases in defense spending, and an ill-conceived border wall. The proposed 26.5 percent cut to the USDA, let alone the total $54 billion cut to non-defense discretionary programs, would threaten the growth of our economy, hurt national security, and unfairly impact low-income and middle class families. We cannot sustain such cuts.

Mr. Secretary, I know this budget was completed before you were confirmed.  I hope you will work with Senators to candidly assess the consequences of this budget as the process moves forward.

I look forward to working with Chairman Hoeven, Ranking Member Merkley, and Chairman Cochran in laying a bipartisan path forward on appropriations.

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CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667