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Rep. Adrian Smith On Farm Subsidies And Food Stamps


The proposed budget the Trump administration released this week proposes major cuts to many social services, including food stamps and disability programs. We asked listeners to tell us what programs they rely on.

ANGIE SCHULDIES: My oldest daughter was born with hearing loss. And because she's on Medicaid, we've had all the services that she's ever needed. And if Medicaid is cut back too far, then I don't know how we'll afford another surgery.

GWEN VALCOURT: We foster kiddos. And if WIC wasn't there, that's one more cost to our family to foster.

KALYSHA CLARK: Ultimately, those programs of food stamps and Medicaid, I firmly believe, are what allowed me to become the young adult that I am. Without that help, I wouldn't have made it to college and beyond.

SIMON: That's Angie Schuldies, Gwen Valcourt and Kalysha Clark.

Budget director Mick Mulvaney said the budget does not lack compassion.


MICK MULVANEY: Compassion needs to be on both sides of that equation. Yes, you have to have compassion for folks who are receiving the federal funds, but also you have to have compassion for the folks who are paying it.

SIMON: Congressman Adam - forgive me - Congressman Adrian Smith joins us now. He's a Republican who represents Nebraska's 3rd District, which includes Hastings and North Platte. Mr. Smith, thanks for being with us.

ADRIAN SMITH: Good morning.

SIMON: This proposed budget calls for $38 billion in cuts to farm subsidies. What would that do to your district?

SMITH: Well, there are concerns that it would undermine, I think, the very successful implementation over the last several years of crop insurance. Crop insurance is proudly identified by producers as a very effective tool to pool that risk. I know we got away from direct payments, headed toward crop insurance to make payments when times require it. But certainly getting away from the direct payments, I think, was a good thing. And we don't want to undermine that success.

SIMON: Yeah. As I don't have to tell you, farm subsidies aren't popular among both a lot of liberals and conservatives. They consider it to be welfare for farmers. Why save those subsidies instead of Meals on Wheels or Head Start?

SMITH: Well, I think we want to take a balanced approach. Regardless of what perspective we might share, we know that we need to tighten our belts budgetarily. I chair the modern agriculture caucus, for example, and we always want to look for new ways to do things so that we can be more efficient. We want to be mindful of budget constraints and certainly, as we do move forward, though, realizing that subsidies have been cut previously. Let's take a look moving forward, make sure that we have balanced policy as we do move forward.

SIMON: This budget would also - and I understand there's a long way to go before it would pass or certainly not - but it would also mean deep cuts to the food stamp program. Now, in many ways, this was sort of the definitive bipartisan program. Bob Dole, George McGovern - two farm state senators, one conservative, one liberal - who got together and authored this program and its revision. Doesn't it also, the food stamp program, also help farmers who produce the food that's bought?

SMITH: Well, I think that anytime we're talking about food and nutrition, it's an important topic and especially for people in need. We do not want to leave our most vulnerable without nutrition. And looking at that, we always want to keep that in mind. Now, we do know that the nutrition title of the farm bill is the largest one when it comes to the dollars. And so even very minor shifts can be very effective in terms of fiscal policy and, at the same time, make sure that we do not harm the most vulnerable among us.

SIMON: Well, let me ask you this bluntly - is every American entitled to eat?

SMITH: Well, they - nutrition, obviously, we know is very important. And I would hope that we can look to...

SIMON: Well, not just important, it's essential for life. Is every American entitled to eat?

SMITH: It is essential. It is essential.

SIMON: So is every American entitled to eat, and is food stamps something that ought to be that ultimate guarantor?

SMITH: I think that we know that, given the necessity of nutrition, there could be a number of ways that we could address that.

SIMON: So you would vote to a - for a budget that cuts food stamps?

SMITH: I want to look at an entire budget, look at all of the details. I'm still sifting through the details of the newly released budget. But we know that Congress ultimately has the say. I look for there to be a lot of changes made in the House and the Senate to the president's budget.

SIMON: Congressman Adrian Smith from Nebraska, thanks so much for being with us, sir.

SMITH: Thank you. Have a good day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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