Commentary

Critics Of Trump's Farm Aid Package Call For Expanded Markets

A Trump administration proposal to dole out $12 billion in aid to farmers getting whacked by its escalating trade wars with the European Union, China, Canada and Mexico was met skeptically yesterday — even by congressional members of the Republican Party.

“Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the U.S. government would provide incremental payments to support prices of some of the hardest-hit commodities, including soybeans, sorghum, cotton, corn, wheat and pork,” report Vivian Salama and Jacob Bunge for the Wall Street Journal.

“‘This is a short-term solution that will give President Trump and his administration time to work on long-term trade deals,’ Perdue told reporters [on a telephone call]. Agriculture Department officials said the aid wouldn’t need congressional approval.”

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Perdue characterized the moved as a response to “what he called U.S. trading partners’ ‘illegal retaliation’ to the policies of Mr. Trump, who has ordered tariffs on imports ranging from metals to materials to clothing to electronic parts,” Salama and Bunge continue.

“Trump defended his approach Tuesday during a speech in Missouri, pleading with the public to ‘be a little patient’ and arguing that farmers would eventually be ‘the biggest beneficiary’ of his policies,’” report Damian Paletta and Caitlin Dewey for the Washington Post.

“But many Republicans criticized the administration’s aid package, saying the president should back off his trade war and help farmers regain more access to foreign markets, rather than offering them government payments,” they add.

“Tariffs are taxes that punish American consumers and producers. If tariffs punish farmers, the answer is not welfare for farmers — the answer is remove the tariffs,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) tweeted in response.

“It's a short-term solution and it doesn’t solve any of the problems agriculture's got right now,” said Sen. John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota who’s a member of the GOP leadership, reports CNN’s Lauren Fox.  “What [U.S. agriculture] needs is more markets, expanded markets. These policies are restricting markets, and to offset that they are going to make, basically, payments to farmers to recognize the loss they have experienced. But it’s just not the right way to do it.”

Several farm groups were not enamored of the proposed solution, either. 

“One farm-group study estimates that corn, wheat and soybean farmers in the United States have already lost more — $13 billion — than the administration is proposing to provide as a result of the trade war. The prospect of retaliation has upended global markets for soybeans, meat and other American farm exports, and farmers are warning that tariffs are costing them valuable foreign contracts that took years to win,” point out Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Ana Swanson for the New York Times.

“You have a terrible policy that sends farmers to the poorhouse, and then you put them on welfare, and we borrow the money from other countries,” Sen. Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, told reporters on Capitol Hill. “It’s hard to believe there isn’t an outright revolt right now in Congress.”

Democratic senators, as you no doubt suspect, were no more welcoming. 

“At the end of the day, farmers don’t want a check, they want a market,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) told Hill.TV correspondent Molly Hooper, suggesting that once a market is lost, it’s hard to get back. Heitkamp also announced a bipartisan bill “aimed at helping farmers and ranchers recover their losses as a result of the administration’s trade policies.”

The right-leaning Washington Examiner’s hed states that “farm groups praise” the aid package but Sean Higgins’ story makes it clear that they would prefer open markets. 

“Our emphasis continues to be on trade and restoring markets, and we will continue to push for a swift and sure end to the trade war and the tariffs impacting American agriculture,” Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, says, for example.

This morning, Trump tweeted: “Every time I see a weak politician asking to stop Trade talks or the use of Tariffs to counter unfair Tariffs, I wonder, what can they be thinking? Are we just going to continue and let our farmers and country get ripped off?  Lost $817 Billion on Trade last year. No weakness!”

Then again, there’s the possibility we’re imagining all of this. In one of his best Big Brother evocations yet, the President told a gathering of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City yesterday: “Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

As George Orwell wrote in 1984 (and I see many other commentators are recalling this morning): “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

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