In this space, we could evaluate President Donald Trump’s plan to provide farmers with $12 billion to help them survive the very trade war he started. Or we could let his fellow Republicans have the floor.
Like Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, whose state produces soybeans, the nation’s No. 1 cash crop: “This trade war is cutting the legs out from under farmers, and the White House’s ‘plan’ is to spend $12 billion on gold crutches.”
Trump’s plan to provide farmers with $12 billion in emergency aid relies in part on the Commodity Credit Corp., a Depression-era program that lets the government make direct payments to farmers of soybeans, pork, corn and dairy for food that will rot, or buy some of it as surplus goods and redistribute it to nutrition programs.
The proposal, which doesn’t require congressional approval, is Trump’s answer to the market disruption caused by the retaliatory tariffs imposed by China, Mexico and others — moves that came in response to Trump’s own tariffs on aluminum and steel imported from those nations.
Said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee: “Instead of offering welfare to farmers to solve a problem they themselves created, the administration should reverse course and end this incoherent policy.”
The damage to the nation’s economy is already being done, and even Trump’s announcement Wednesday that the United States and European Union are working toward “zero tariffs” on nonautomotive products won’t clean up the mess. The price of soybeans, which China imports more than any other nation, has fallen nearly 20 percent since April, and pork exports are down, threatening bankruptcy to family and industrial farms. No big bailout will fix that.
“This is becoming more and more like a Soviet-type of economy here,” said Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, suggesting the plan means “commissars” in government will decide “how they’re going to sprinkle around the benefits.”
None of this absolves China of its unacceptable and unfair trade practices, manipulation of currency, theft of intellectual property or policies that force the sharing of proprietary technology. But a bullying trade war won’t solve those issues, either; it just creates new ones.
As Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to put a Band-Aid on a self-inflicted wound.” He added, “This bailout compounds bad policy with more bad policy.”
But while $12 billion won’t heal trade-war injuries, just imagine what such an enormous amount of taxpayer money could do. In New York, it would more than pay for the Long Island Rail Road’s entire East Side Access project or most of New York City’s Fast Forward subway modernization. Instead, Trump hopes an oversized check will be enough to placate farmers through Election Day. That might be why in a speech Tuesday, he asked farmers to “be a little patient.”
But the farmers, and many a Republican lawmaker, should not have to be patient. Corker said it was “hard to believe there isn’t an outright revolt right now in Congress.”
Perhaps that’s what it’ll take to end the war.