By Sarah Gonzalez, Director of Communications and Digital Media
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue testified before two appropriations subcommittees this week to discuss the president’s budget request for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, during which lawmakers asked him about a wide range of issues, including trade, farm bill implementation, food stamps, agricultural research and more.
During the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Agriculture Subcommittee hearing on April 11, senators repeatedly brought up the president’s trade agenda and its effects on agriculture. Both Republicans and Democrats have called on President Trump to lift Section 232 “national security” tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Mexico and Canada. Neither country is expected to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade pact while the tariffs are still in place.
“We’re advocating to the president that he can accomplish his goals in revitalizing the steel industry and aluminum industry in the U.S. through a quota system that is combined with a tariff when they exceed that quota,” Perdue said in response to questions from Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc. “Hopefully, he will come to see that is an effective tool to continue to support our domestic steel industry, as well.”
Baldwin also asked Perdue about Trump’s threats to close the U.S.-Mexico border – which he later walked back to instead threaten to impose tariffs on Mexican auto imports if Mexico does not curtail movements of illegal drugs within one year – and the country’s latest retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural products. Baldwin said even “passing comments about closing down ports of entry” has her farmer-constituents worried.
“I don’t see any threat right now to close the border,” Perdue said. “We’ve advocated I think, as well as others, how detrimental this would be to U.S. commerce.”
Regarding the fiscal 2020 budget, Subcommittee Chairman John Hoeven, R-S.D., asserted in his opening comments that the president’s $15.7 billion request for discretionary funding for USDA is inadequate. The request is more than $4 billion less than the enacted level for fiscal 2019. “While I support many proposals included in the president’s budget, such as increased funding for our military and defense, the burden of balancing the federal budget cannot be placed on the backs of farmers, rural communities and food aid recipients,” Hoeven said.
Earlier in the week, Perdue testified before the House Appropriations Committee’s Agriculture Subcommittee, where Chairman Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., said, “unfortunately, once again, the administration has put forward a woefully underfunded budget request that fails agricultural communities and rural America.”
Bishop spent some time questioning Perdue about plans to move the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture out of the Washington, D.C., area, a move Bishop and fellow Democrats on the subcommittee strongly oppose. “Mr. Secretary, I believe that you are honestly trying to bring positive changes to USDA and we are all always looking for ways to do things more efficiently,” Bishop said. “My concern is that the administration has not asked for appropriate resources and staffing.”
Perdue said the department would complete a cost-benefit analysis of the move. “Certainly this is maybe one of those areas where you and I are friends but will have to disagree over the issue going forward,” he told Bishop.
Also, during the hearing, Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., told Perdue he’s concerned litigation against Monsanto – acquired last year by Bayer – might cause the company to stop selling Roundup®.
“I’m afraid that while groups that oppose these types of uses have not been able to win on the science side, they’ve chosen the litigation route,” Perdue said. “I’m hoping the appeals court will see through this.” He added that if U.S. farmers could no longer use glyphosate, “it would be literally devastating to our productivity capacity worldwide.”