Two of farmers’ most powerful Republican advocates in the Senate slammed President Donald Trump’s proposal Tuesday to slash crop insurance, warning those and other budget cuts would badly wound one of the president’s most loyal constituencies.
Voters who live in rural areas gave Trump a 61-34 percent advantage over Democrat Hillary Clinton in November, according to network exit polls. Kansans voted overwhelmingly for Trump, by 56-36 percent.
Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Jerry Moran, who helps set federal spending levels as a member of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, vowed to fight the president’s plan to cut crop insurance by $28.5 billion over 10 years. That’s a 36 percent cut, significantly more than former President Barack Obama ever proposed.
A visibly annoyed Roberts called the cuts “not viable” and “very troubling” for Kansas.
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“We’ve had a freeze, and we’ve had a historic prairie fire, and then we had another freeze and we've lost about 40 percent of the wheat crop,” he said. “How on earth of those farmers supposed to stay in business without crop insurance?”
Chances are the cuts won’t ever become law. Republicans, who control 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats, are expected to write their own budget plan. With Roberts and Moran instrumental in writing that legislation, it’s doubtful Trump will get his way.
Both senators, as well as others from predominantly rural states, were taken aback by the degree of devastation to crop insurance in Trump’s budget, especially when farmers already are struggling with low crop prices. Farm bureaus and commodity groups blasted the move as “unwarranted,” “unwise” and “devastating” to the farming economy.
Crop insurance is a federally subsidized program protects farmers against crop loss, damage or falling prices.
Donn Teske, president of the Kansas Farmers Union and vice president of the National Farmers Union, said the proposed cuts felt like a betrayal to farmers.
“We’re in the middle of a farm crisis with no end in sight and they look at what the president’s proposing and they don’t see any help. They see a slap in the face,” said Teske, who runs a small family farm in Wheaton, Kansas, that grows soybeans and raises cattle.
The Kansas senators also were unhappy with other parts of the Trump budget. Trump wants to slash $800 billion over the next 10 years from the Medicaid program, which provides health coverage to poor people and those with disabilities, and the Essential Air Service, which subsidizes commercial flights to 170 rural airports across the country. Trump’s budget would defund the program entirely.
The budget also reduce funding for food stamps by $190 billion over the next decade and would tighten eligibility requirements.
Moran worries that a severe cut to Medicaid would reduce payments to health care providers, forcing more hospitals to close their doors in rural areas and driving doctors away from states such as Kansas.
He also called Trump’s request to eliminate rural air service “very concerning.”
“The ability to keep rural America alive and well revolves around our ability to connect to the rest of the world,” he said. “That air service matters.”
Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who is running for re-election in a state Trump won by 19 percentage points, said she didn’t understand why Trump would write a budget that was so hard on the very voters who helped put him in office in November.
“I mean is it possible that he doesn’t understand it?” McCaskill said. “I don’t know. I think if he doesn’t, somebody needs to get word to him quickly that he’s devastating the very communities that showed the most support for him.”
The senator said she couldn’t tell whether the White House just wasn’t listening to the objections or advice of her Republican colleagues from farm states, or if it was rejecting that advice.
“But if they’re not listening to Pat Roberts, that ought to really have everybody scratching their head,” she said.
Katishi Maake contributed to this article.
Lowry reports for The Kansas City Star.