Topeka Agricultural interests in Kansas could be getting smaller portions of government subsidies under efforts to slash federal spending.
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. and chairman of the House Budget Committee, has proposed a deficit-reduction plan to cut spending by several trillion dollars.
While his proposals to cut Medicaid and privatize Medicare have grabbed most of the headlines, Ryan’s plan also includes cutting $30 billion over 10 years in federal farm subsidies. President Barack Obama’s deficit commission had called for a $10 billion cut in farm programs.
Ag enterprises in Kansas are a big beneficiary of these subsidies.
The state ranks sixth in the nation, having received $14.5 billion from 1995 to 2009 in U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidies, according to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research group.
The 1st U.S. House District in Kansas ranks second among congressional districts with $8.7 billion in subsidies during the same time period, and is only slightly behind North Dakota, which is one congressional district and received $8.9 billion.
Even so, U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Fowler Republican who represents the 1st District, said this when asked at a town hall meeting last week in Salina about farm subsidies: “Farmers are going to have make the argument, to Head Start folks and others, that their subsidies are worth borrowing 42 cents for every dollar spent.”
According to the report of the meeting in the Salina Journal, several farmers in attendance said they wouldn’t miss the subsidies.
And Gov. Sam Brownback, who has received nearly $49,000 in subsidy payments between 1995 and 2009, according to the Environmental Working Group, said agricultural subsidies must be on the table.
“All the programs, I think you have to look at,” Brownback said. He said the fact that Ryan has taken on changes to Medicare “just shows the serious nature of our budget deficit. I think you have to look at everything.”
Ryan’s plan for Medicare would require future retirees, who are now 54 and younger, to purchase private insurance with government vouchers. His plan on agricultural subsidies would reduce direct payments to farmers and the crop insurance program.
The Environmental Working Group called the proposal “a small but welcome step” but noted it will be up to the House Agriculture Committee to decide whether to implement these reforms.
“The House proposal is encouraging, but much more work needs to be done in the upcoming food and farm bill,” said Craig Cox, Environmental Working Group senior vice-president and director of EWG’s Iowa office.
“We need to create a fiscally responsible safety net that works for all farmers while ensuring that kids have access to healthy food, people hurt hardest by the recession can feed their families and critical protections for our water and soil are in place,” Cox said.
EWG’s farm subsidy database shows that 60 percent of American farmers receive no subsidies, while 10 percent of the largest and wealthiest subsidy recipients have received 74 percent of all subsidies paid since 1995.