Sen. Pat Roberts says President Donald Trump committed during a White House meeting that he won’t cut a key program for Kansas farmers despite placing reductions in his budget proposal.
Kansas lawmakers have gone out of their way to emphasize their support for crop insurance, which Trump has proposed trimming as part of his budget.
“I did get the backing of the President of the United States for that about two or three weeks ago, and we were able to convince the president it was a very valuable and needed program,” Roberts said during a recent stop in Topeka.
A spokeswoman for Roberts said Friday the meeting took place in the Oval Office in late June.
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Farmers nationwide buy insurance to protect against losses or underperforming harvests and the federal government helps subsidize the coverage. The insurance helps to back the agricultural industry in Kansas, which has experienced low commodity prices in recent years.
About $74 million in losses was paid out to Kansas farmers in 2016, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Trump’s budget would cut crop insurance by $28.5 billion over 10 years. That’s about a 36 percent cut, a far larger reduction than any proposed by former President Barack Obama.
Roberts told the Kansas Ag Summit in Manhattan last week that he was in the White House with Trump – who called him “farm guy” – when Roberts broached the topic of crop insurance. During the meeting, Trump dialed up his top budget official, Mick Mulvaney, and after some discussion told Mulvaney that he wouldn’t cut the program, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported Roberts as saying.
“I was able to convince the president, who then instructed Mick Mulvaney, the head of (the Office of Management and Budget), that we’re not going to cut crop insurance,” Roberts told reporters at a separate appearance.
The White House and the Office of Management and Budget did not respond to questions.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue appeared to leave open the possibility of changes during an appearance on Aug. 21 in South Carolina. A main concern for many is ensuring crop insurance is a “safety net and not a promise of profitability,” he said, according to the local paper, The Times and Democrat.
The cuts as proposed in Trump’s budget are unlikely to become law because Congress extensively modifies presidential budgets. But the commitment Trump apparently gave to Roberts appears to rule out any cuts to the program.
Critics of the current crop insurance program argue that it’s bloated and that it encourages farmers to take fewer precautions against losses. Some argue parts of the program may allow farmers, at times, to take in more revenue from insurance than if they had planted crops.
“So, effectively, by subsidizing crop insurance, taxpayers are encouraging farmers to work less efficiently, produce fewer crops, and make smaller contributions to the overall productivity of the U.S. economy,” Vincent Smith, director of agricultural policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in a recent op-ed.
But Rep. Roger Marshall, who represents Kansas’ First Congressional District, which stretches over much of western Kansas, said crop insurance was the backbone of the last farm bill and would be the backbone of the next one.
“Crop insurance doesn’t protect just the farmers in this room, it protects your loan at the bank. You can’t get a loan at the bank without it. It protects the downtown communities, your co-ops,” Marshall said at the Kansas Ag Summit. “Main Street America is protected by crop insurance.”
Contributing: Hunter Woodall, Lindsay Wise and Bryan Lowry of The Kansas City Star