Opinion column: President’s proposals would undermine agriculture’s success

By Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.)

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama released his budget even though it was due on Feb. 4. While the House and Senate have already passed 10-year budget resolutions and the president’s proposals have little chance of being enacted, it is a revealing look at his priorities and vision for America.

Of particular interest to Nebraskans is how the president’s proposals would affect agriculture, the backbone of our local economy.

For example, President Obama’s 2014 budget proposes cuts to the federal crop insurance program. While we need to reduce our deficit and debt, it is counterproductive to undermine producers who manage risk.

Without crop insurance, only those producers able to purchase their own insurance will be able to afford to farm. Further cuts to this program will discourage participation which could increase premiums for producers and raise the cost of food for consumers.

Given the success of crop insurance, and in light of last year’s severe drought, we should be working to strengthen this fiscally responsible public-private partnership – not cutting it.

While the president has proposed cuts to crop insurance, he maintains increased funding levels for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as “food stamps.” Over four years, spending on the food stamp program has more than doubled, increasing from $35 billion to around $80 billion.

This amount accounts for most of the nutrition title, which comprises approximately 80 percent of the cost of the Farm Bill. Even during times of nationwide economic growth, food stamp spending increased. It is not unreasonable to consider modest changes without hurting families in need.

SNAP and agriculture programs have been enacted together in the Farm Bill since the 1960s, and more recently food stamp funding has been one major sticking point holding up passage of a long-term Farm Bill. Maintaining the status quo on food stamps while gutting crop insurance only complicates Farm Bill passage.

The president’s budget also makes a major shift in how the U.S. provides food aid around the world through the Food for Peace program. The White House budget would reduce the amount of food purchased from American farmers and ranchers and spend more to buy it from foreign producers or give cash payments to foreign suppliers.

We face logistical challenges to getting food to those most in need, and those problems deserve thoughtful deliberation. This does not mean we should push taxpayer dollars to foreign suppliers at the expense of high quality American products and jobs.

Despite these and other frustrations, I am pleased the president proposes bringing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership toward a conclusion by the end of 2013 – an ambitious goal which could open markets to more American agriculture products. I hope the president continues to pursue avenues of new market growth.

As the budget process continues, Congress should prioritize the programs and policies which encourage growth. Agriculture remains a bright spot in an otherwise bleak national economy – we cannot afford to undermine it.