Budget Catch-up for Perdue

If the Senate confirms Sonny Perdue as Agriculture secretary on April 24, he’ll have just a few short weeks to influence the more detailed White House budget that’s expected in mid-May. The former Georgia governor said last month he had no input on President Donald Trump’s so-called skinny budget which proposed a 21 percent cut to USDA discretionary spending in fiscal 2018 — and he implied that he wasn’t happy about it.

So far the USDA has been at a “severe disadvantage” in the Trump administration because of a lack of leadership and political appointees, former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has endorsed Perdue, told MA in an email. That’s one reason why the department got saddled with the third-largest proposed cut among federal agencies. Further, the USDA won’t be in a strong position to push back against potential cuts that could come later this month when lawmakers enact appropriations legislation for the rest of fiscal 2017, which must be enacted by April 28 to avoid a government shutdown, Vilsack said.

“The folks who are putting the USDA budget together at the OMB and [White House] have little to no awareness of what USDA actually does,” Vilsack said. So while they may think eliminating the department’s rural water and waste disposal loan and grant program makes sense, “it really does not for the towns in rural America that are most in need of help,” he added.

That’s why advocates are looking to Congress for help. Mike Keegan, a legislative analyst at the National Rural Water Association, told MA that Perdue probably can’t make significant changes to the White House budget now that the toplines have already been put forth. So his organization is lobbying Congress against cuts to rural water programs. So far, lawmakers have been supportive, he said.

The $500 million USDA rural water loan and grant program has solved some of the worst infrastructure problems in small communities, Keegan said, such as complying with clean drinking water standards that can cost millions. “Towns have a real burden, and this is the program they’ve turned to,” he said. “I think a lot of senators and congressmen understand that.”

Source: Jason Huffman, Politico

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