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ND Congressional delegation takes issue with Trump budget cuts to farmers, ranchers

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, at left. File photo

BISMARCK—Cuts to farm programs, particularly crop insurance, in President Trump's proposed $4.4 trillion budget are getting a cool reception from North Dakota's congressional delegation.

U.S. Sens. John Hoeven, R-ND, and Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, as well as Congressman Kevin Cramer, R-ND, say they will work to preserve funding for farm programs as Congress now begins the task of crafting spending legislation.

"Farmers and ranchers suffering from the ongoing drought need a stronger safety net, but this budget would cut crop insurance and put our farm economy at risk," Heitkamp said in a statement following the budget's release Monday, Feb. 12. The budget would reduce the average premium subsidy for crop insurance from 62 percent to 48 percent and put an income cap on commodity, conservation, and crop insurance subsidies.

Hoeven, chairman of the Senate Ag Appropriations Committee, issued a statement saying, "The president's budget proposal shows strong support for rebuilding our military, securing our border, helping communities challenged by opioid addiction and caring for our veterans, all priorities that we share. However, I'm concerned that the president's budget proposal doesn't do enough to support our nation's farmers and ranchers. Our producers continue to face challenges from low commodity prices and natural disasters — from devastating droughts to hurricanes — which is why we need to prioritize funding for USDA programs including crop insurance, the Conservation Reserve Program and rural development."

Cramer issued a statement saying, "I believe some of the budget cuts requested — particularly the drastic cuts aimed at the federal crop insurance program and other farm programs — are ill advised and fail to address the biggest underlying causes of our nation's debt. I look forward to working with the administration to address these concerns. Everyone should remember it is Congress which holds the power of the purse and we will continue to address the federal deficit and budget priorities accordingly."

Cramer responded positively to other aspects of the budget, though.

"President Trump has laid out his vision for rebuilding our nation's infrastructure, strengthening our military and fundamentally changing how our government works to make it more efficient and responsive to the needs of the country. Now it is time for Congress to get down to the hard work of drafting legislation to meet the needs of the country as well as addressing the president's priorities," he said.

"We appreciate the White House's proposal to repair and improve our nation's infrastructure," Hoeven added. "We are especially encouraged by the focus on rural infrastructure, as well as innovative approaches to funding infrastructure, which will help taxpayer dollars go farther. Investments like these not only support good-paying jobs in construction and similar industries, they also support the long-term growth of our economy as a whole. In the Senate, we are working toward this shared goal, and I will continue to advance the Move America Act and my WIFIA reauthorization legislation as part of this effort."

The Move America Act is bipartisan legislation that would complement public funding in infrastructure, including investments in rural America, through tax credits and tax-exempt bonds. Qualified projects include roads, bridges, transit, ports, rail, airports, water and sewer facilities and rural broadband.

Hoeven's bipartisan Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) would help stimulate investment in water infrastructure, such as flood control, storm water management and wastewater treatment, by providing long-term, low-cost loans and loan guarantees. The bill would make these loans available through Fiscal Year 2024 under the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It would also consolidate the administration of the program under the EPA's pre-existing infrastructure for WIFIA loans, which would allow the Corps to move forward on identifying eligible projects.

Heitkamp saw a positive for North Dakota in the proposed budget's military spending.

"While I'm concerned about cuts to many programs that support rural communities, one bright spot is funding for the modernization of Minot's B-52s," Heitkamp said.

She opposes a 21 percent budget cut to the Department of Health and Human Services. The president's proposal repeals the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion and would eliminate funding for health professions and nursing training programs.

She also does not like cuts to rural housing and economic development or the elimination of the Community Development Block Grant Program, the Indian Community Development Block Grant program, the HOME Investment Partnerships Program and Rural Development housing programs. The president's budget cuts Army Corps of Engineers construction funding by 54 percent, which would affect flood protection projects, Heitkamp said.