Last week, President Trump released his inaugural budget request, this for the coming fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. Unlike past detailed budget proposals typically issued by the White House, Trump’s budget was in the form of bullet points. Widespread coverage was given to the proposed major increases in defense spending and significant cuts to domestic and international aid programs, including deep cuts to USDA programs.
Our concern is that many in rural America may be hurt by the funding reductions and possible eliminations to rural economic development, infrastructure improvements, and social programs. We expect, however, that many of Trump’s proposals will struggle to pass as House and Senate committees consider the practical implications and impacts of the proposed cuts.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition characterized it this way: “President Trump’s budget proposal calls for draconian cuts to food and agricultural programs on a historically unprecedented scale.”
NSAC staff based in Washington, DC, went on to say: “Luckily, it is unlikely that Congress will go along with much of what the President is proposing.”
Catholic Rural Life intends to join with those who will make noise on behalf of rural America, especially for farm families. Our priorities include support for sustainable agriculture programs, working lands conservation, rural economic development, and assistance for military veterans and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
Next Budget Steps
The President’s general budget request is just the first step in the funding process for next fiscal year. A more detailed request by the White House will be released later this spring, perhaps as late as May. Congressional appropriators will take the budget request into consideration – along with the hundreds of additional proposals they receive from members of Congress and stakeholders – and will draft the actual funding bills for FY 2018.
Next Farm Bill
Also happening at this same time is drafting of the next Farm Bill, due for reauthorization by October of next year. Major farm and commodity groups – American Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union, and several other major organizations – strongly expressed their support for reauthorizing the 2018-2023 Farm Bill based on the clear need for a stronger farm safety net and more resources for key priorities.
In a March 15 letter to House and Senate leaders, they wrote:
We were the only sector willing to contribute to deficit reduction when the farm economy was healthy. Now we look to Congress to provide the resources necessary to help America’s farmers and ranchers through this very difficult period. Farm budgets are very tight this year and with USDA predicting commodity prices to remain flat for the next several years, we need a strong, effective farm bill to help farmers and ranchers through this difficult, long-term period of depressed prices and income.
Budget and appropriations processes require difficult decisions. Although we live in a very wealthy country compared to the rest of the world, there are limitations to how much the federal government can collect and expend to meet the needs of the people. But beyond budget considerations, we must take into account moral ones. Following the lead of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Rural Life faithfully asks:
1. How does a budget decision protect or threaten human life and dignity?
2. How does a budget decision affect “the least of these” (Matt. 25)? As followers of Christ, we believe the needs of those who are hungry and homeless, vulnerable and at risk, without work or in poverty, should come first.
3. How can our government better promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times?
The bishops rightly counsel that we must reduce future unsustainable deficits. At the same time, a just framework for the federal budget cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons. A fair and balanced budget requires shared sacrifice by all.
The U.S. Bishops expressed it well in their March 3 letter to Congress:
The moral measure of the federal budget is not which party wins or which powerful interests prevail, but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless, exploited, poor, unborn or undocumented are treated. Their voices are too often missing in these debates, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources.