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Rounds: $4.7B proposed USDA cut 'not necessarily' fair

U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds said a 21 percent cut in the U.S. Department of Agriculture budget is "not necessarily" fair.

During a call with reporters Thursday, the South Dakota Republican said what's included in President Donald Trump's first proposed budget — which includes a $4.7 billion cut to the USDA — will be less likely to impact South Dakotans than what's included in the next farm bill.

"Total overall on this deal when you get all done with it, I think it's going to have more to do with the new farm bill coming around," Rounds said. "I think that will have more of a say in terms of what we actually end up with as opposed to what the president's proposing now."

Rounds said Trump's proposal reflects a campaign promise to limit federal spending, but he said there's enough support of the agriculture industry to review and alter the proposed budget cut.

Rounds also appeared to question Trump's decision to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement with several Asia Pacific nations. The first-term senator and former South Dakota governor wondered whether the U.S. will be able to negotiate agreements with each individual nation involved in the TPP quickly enough to benefit exporting American farmers and producers.

"For me, I'm really concerned about whether or not we're going to have the time and the effort available to do separate trade agreements with all the different countries that we'd really like to do," Rounds said. "I thought TPP was moving in the right direction."

Rounds' comments come on the heels of the proposed USDA cuts that would drop $498 million in funds toward a rural water and wastewater loan and grant program and $182 million earmarked for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program. The program, which was named in part after former U.S. Sen. and Mitchell resident George McGovern, supports education, child development and food-deficits throughout the world.

While Rounds conveyed some hesitation to expressly back his fellow Republican's budget cuts, the South Dakota Democratic Party offered harsh criticism of the White House's budget proposal.

"This budget would be a disaster for South Dakota's family farmers, producers and ranchers, and shows just how little Donald Trump cares for rural communities and those whose livelihood depends on the ag industry," the S.D. Democratic Party said in a statement Thursday morning.

Although Rounds expects changes in the proposed budget, he said a stronger spokesman for ag could soon join the Trump administration.

Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue has yet to be confirmed as the Secretary of Agriculture, but Rounds said his knowledge of the production ag industry could be beneficial as a spokesman for farmers throughout the nation.

If the proposed budget remains the same if and when Perdue is confirmed, the S.D. Democrats wondered who the state's trio of congressional delegates would support.

"Representative (Kristi) Noem and Senators Rounds and (John) Thune will have to decide who they stand with: Donald Trump or the hardworking South Dakota families."