Proposed USDA cuts worry Iowa lawmakers

President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which impact the rural communities that helped him win election last fall, drew bipartisan concern Thursday even as Republicans praised him for tackling spending and Democrats accused him of abandoning priorities.

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

The budget outline does not include spending for food stamp and crop subsidy programs, and does not provide many specifics on just what would be cut.

But it would eliminate a $498 million water and wastewater loan program and reduce staffing at USDA service centers. It also says it would save $95 million in what it calls duplicative and underperforming programs in the Rural Business and Cooperative Service, which helps with economic development 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 City, said.

The proposed cuts would affect 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, better known as food stamps. That requires a change in the law.

The outline does cut $200 million from a nutrition program for women, infants and children.

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

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 praised the president for focusing on the country’s debt.

The proposal would cut spending at the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent and the Department of Education by 14 percent.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, did not comment on the proposed USDA cuts in a statement his office provided.

He said “the president is right to take a close look at spending” but said the budget proposals “aren’t specific enough to know exactly how Iowans would be affected.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the country’s largest organization representing farmers, said USDA staffing cuts and reduced statistical services could hurt its members.

“A lot of farmers and growers rely on USDA’s statistical capabilities to make a lot of marketing and risk management decisions and planting decisions,” said John Newton, the bureau’s director of market intelligence.

Separately, the president already has vowed to alter trade deals that have largely boosted farm incomes and targeted health care policies that have particularly benefited the rural poor.

And even though Trump announced nearly two months ago that former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is his choice for ag secretary, no confirmation hearing for Perdue has been set.

Reuters contributed to this report.