Politics & Government

Kansas senator says Trump pledged not to cut crop insurance. Trump’s budget cuts it

Green wheat waves in the wind before a backdrop of a spring thunderstorm near the Kansas/Oklahoma border.
Green wheat waves in the wind before a backdrop of a spring thunderstorm near the Kansas/Oklahoma border. The Wichita Eagle

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts said President Donald Trump made a commitment to him in the Oval Office last year not to cut crop insurance, a key program for farmers.

Trump’s budget proposal cuts the program anyway.

The president’s budget plan, released Monday, would eliminate subsidies to higher-income farmers and reduce “overly generous” subsidies for others, the White House said.

Under Trump’s budget, the average premium subsidy for crop insurance would fall from 62 percent to 48 percent.

The changes would save more than $2 billion a year beginning in 2020, according to the White House.

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 latest figures available from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Overall, Trump’s budget slashes the budget for the U.S. Department of Agriculture by $3.7 billion, a 16 percent decrease.

The proposed cuts come after Roberts — concerned about reductions proposed in Trump’s budget last year — sought a promise from the president that he would protect crop insurance during a conversation at the White House in June.

The Republican chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee said after the meeting last year that he felt had been able to convince the president that crop insurance was a “very valuable and needed program.”

He recalled that Trump called his top budget official, Mick Mulvaney, on the phone and, after some discussion, told Mulvaney he wouldn’t cut crop insurance.

The agency headed by Mulvaney, the Office of Management and Budget, said in a statement that Mulvaney and the administration “look forward to working with Chairman Roberts on a farm bill in Congress that appropriately protects our nation’s agriculture industry.”

Roberts indicated in a statement on Monday that he wasn’t taking the president’s 2019 budget plan too seriously, at least as far as crop insurance is concerned.

Trump’s budget isn’t likely to become law — Congress hold the power of the purse — but the proposal does lay out the administration's priorities in terms of budget cuts and spending.

Roberts said he was glad to have had the opportunity to discuss crop insurance with Trump last year, and believes the president is committed to rural America.

“I will hold him at his word and look forward to sending him a Farm Bill with a Crop Insurance program that protects farmers and ranchers and ensures our country has a safe and affordable food supply,” Roberts said in a statement.

Critics of crop insurance say it’s a bloated program that encourages farmers to take fewer precautions against losses. But proponents say it’s critical to allowing farmers to survive financially.

Any push to make cuts to crop insurance would almost certainly provoke significant resistance from rural lawmakers, many of whom are Republicans.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts farm income in 2018 will be at a 12-year low, noted Ryan Flickner, senior director of advocacy for the Kansas Farm Bureau, emphasizing the need to continue to protect farmers.

“Presidents propose budgets every year. This proposal from President Trump is no different than that of former presidents Bush or Obama — cuts to crop insurance are dead on arrival,” Flickner said.

The budget plan comes after a December report from the Congressional Budget Office that predicts that if the crop insurance program continues under current law, it will cost $77 billion from now until 2027. The report also says some changes could save up to $19.2 billion during the same time.

The CBO report examined the possibility of reducing crop insurance premium subsidies by an amount similar to what Trump proposed. The reduction would be $8.1 billion between now and 2027, CBO found.

But CBO also warned that decreasing subsidies could reduce participation among farmers who face low risks.

“If that happened, high-risk producers would take a up a larger share of participants in the crop insurance program, and policy premiums (which are set up to cover expected losses) would consequently rise,” the report said.