Government & Politics

Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas bucks Trump on proposed cuts to agriculture budget

Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, says he won’t support President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to agriculture programs.
Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, says he won’t support President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to agriculture programs. The Associated Press

The chairman of the Senate’s agriculture committee said he was not going to go along with President Donald Trump’s deep budget cuts to food, farm and rural programs — and he’s let the White House know about it.

Trump’s 2018 budget proposal would slash $4.7 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 21 percent decrease from fiscal year 2017.

Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas told McClatchy he doesn’t expect Congress will take such “an inordinate amount” of funding from the Agriculture Department.

“I won’t say it’s not going to happen, but remember that I don’t think Congress has paid much attention to the president’s budget ever since Reagan, and they usually come in the transom and we simply throw ’em back out,” Roberts said.

“That doesn’t mean we’re not going to adhere to our fiscal responsibilities,” the senator added, “but we’d like to do that with a scalpel, not a hatchet.”

Asked whether he’d let the White House know about his concerns, Roberts said, “Oh, yes.”

Among the programs targeted for elimination in Trump’s budget is the Water and Wastewater loan and grant program, for a savings of $498 million. The program provides funding for reliable drinking water, sanitary systems and storm drainage to homes and businesses in rural areas. The White House argues that rural communities could be better served by private-sector financing or other federal programs that invest in water infrastructure.

The budget also would eliminate the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program, named for former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole and former South Dakota Sen. George McGovern. The McGovern-Dole program facilitates the donation of U.S. agriculture products and financial aid around the globe. The food and money go toward reducing hunger while boosting literacy and primary education, especially among girls.

More than 2.2 million children in eight countries benefited from the program in 2016, including at schools in Haiti, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Kenya and Cambodia. The White House said the program “lacks evidence that it is being effectively implemented to reduce food insecurity.”

Roberts suggested the White House push to wipe out those programs’ budgets isn’t likely to succeed in Congress, at least not on his watch.

“Those programs have been very good programs,” Roberts said. “We’re going to keep those.

“I’m not saying not to be concerned, but I’m saying, ‘Hey, be a partner, and if there are some kind of savings you can come up with, let us know. We’ll protect the program, but let us know (how you can help).’