MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Republican head of the House Budget Committee has proposed cutting agriculture subsidies by $30 billion over the next 10 years as part of a broad effort to slash federal spending, but it remains to be seen whether his ideas will be incorporated in legislation that sets funding for agriculture programs.
That legislation is handled by a different committee that's dominated by lawmakers from states where farmers have historically received big government handouts.
The $3.5 trillion budget plan put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has grabbed headlines because of its proposed revamps of Medicare and Medicaid and its tax cuts, but it also would reduce spending on agriculture and a wide range of other federal programs. It awaits a floor vote in the House but has no chance in the Democratic controlled Senate. Still, it's framing the budget debate and some of its proposals could make it into other legislation, including the 2012 farm bill.
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, commended Ryan for "taking the first serious step in reining in our deficit" but was quick to add that the policy proposals "are simply suggestions. At the end of the day, members of the House Agriculture Committee and I will write the next farm bill."
The Environmental Working Group, which contends subsidies are corporate welfare that foster ecologically unsound farming practices, welcomed the subsidy cuts while expressing reservations about what might happen to conservation programs, which the plan doesn't address.
"We think it's a great start. It's a real gift to the subsidy reform effort. ... Of course this is just his vision. There's nothing compelling anyone to implement any of these changes," EWG analyst David DeGennaro told The Associated Press.
DeGenarro said the GOP plan would go farther in cutting farm subsidies than President Barack Obama's deficit commission, which called for $10 billion in savings from farm programs over 10 years.
"It's a real platform to work from," he said.
The 72-page report laying out Ryan's plan said crop prices and deficits are both hitting new highs. It noted that net farm income this year is forecast to hit the second-highest total in 35 years, and that farmers' five most profitable years in the last 35 have all been in the past decade.
"The record-breaking prosperity of American farmers and farm communities is to be celebrated," the report said. "But it also calls for a re-examination of federal agricultural programs that spend billions each year, to ensure that taxpayers aren't funding support for a sector that is more than capable of thriving on its own."