Trump offers help to farmers hit by escalating China trade war
WASHINGTON – As President Donald Trump embarks on a multistate tour through parts of the country hit heavily by trade battles, his administration said Tuesday it will direct $12 billion to farmers whose harvests have been hurt by tariffs.
But the idea faced immediate criticism from Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Responding to farm groups and the Republican discontent, administration officials said they have been working since April on a short-term plan to shore up slipping prices for soybeans, pork and other crops hit with retaliatory tariffs from China.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue described the programs as "a firm statement that other nations cannot bully our agricultural producers to force the United States to cave in.”
But the idea drew sharp and immediate criticism from some Republicans on Capitol Hill, who described it as "welfare" for one sector of the economy affected by the tit-for-tat raising of trade barriers that has been ushered in by Trump.
"This trade war is cutting the legs out from under farmers," said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb. "The best relief for the president’s trade war would be ending the trade war."
Perdue described the measures, which do not require congressional approval, as a one-time, short-term effort to give Trump more leverage to negotiate an end to trade disputes with China, Canada, Mexico, the European Union and others.
The USDA-led programs, Perdue said, would include direct payments to farmers, government purchase of crops to be distributed to food banks and attempts to build new export markets to replace those imposing retaliatory tariffs.
Producers of soybeans, sorghum, corn, wheat, cotton, dairy and hogs would benefit from the direct payments, USDA officials said. Fruits, nuts, rice, legumes, beef, pork and milk could be purchased for distribution to food-aid programs.
The plan to stabilize farmers, some of whom have watched prices tumble amid the trade disputes, is a recognition that Trump’s tariffs are having a short-term impact on the agriculture sector heading into the midterm elections and also that there is no clear end in sight to escalating barriers.
Trump spoke at a VFW convention and attended a fundraiser in Missouri on Tuesday, and he is set to visit Iowa and Illinois later this week.
In a tweet before leaving the White House on Tuesday, the president said that "Tariffs are the greatest!" and reiterated his argument that current trade policy disadvantages U.S. farmers and manufacturers. Speaking to veterans in Kansas City, Missouri, the president urged farmers to "just be a little patient."
"The farmers will be the biggest beneficiary," Trump said of the trade disputes.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the USDA programs would give Trump more leverage to negotiate with other countries.
Though he declined to say whether he supports the policy, Hoeven predicted it would make "darn clear to the people we’re negotiating with that we intend to get better trade deals."
Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican who chairs the Agriculture Committee, was also noncommittal about the measures.
“Well I think it’s obvious that in farm country there’s a lot of concern," Roberts said. "Those are the folks who brought the president home, and obviously if you’re adding up that kind of situation, why it would impact that.”
Other Republicans were more critical.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., described the plan as a "misplaced policy.”
“You have a terrible policy that sends farmers to the poor house and puts them on welfare,” he said. “It’s hard to believe that there isn’t an outright revolt in Congress over what is happening.”
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., blasted the plan on Twitter.
"Tariffs are taxes that punish American consumers and producers," he wrote. "If tariffs punish farmers, the answer is not welfare for farmers – the answer is remove the tariffs."
Republicans, many of whom also must face voters in the November midterms, have become increasingly vocal in questioning the White House approach to international trade, even though Trump said he promised during the 2016 campaign to upend the "terrible" agreements signed by his predecessors.
Thirty-nine Republicans and 49 Democrats backed a nonbinding resolution this month calling for Congress to have a role when the president imposes trade barriers in the name of national security. The resolution was seen by many as a signal of restiveness within the GOP on Trump's handling of trade.
Trump is also set to meet Wednesday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. The two leaders plan to discuss U.S. tariffs on aluminum and steel that Trump imposed in May as well as Trump's threat to extend duties on European car imports.
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"People say, 'Oh, could you do it this week? Could you get it done immediately?' " Trump said of renegotiating trade deals. "These countries have been ripping us off for decades.
"It doesn't take a week," Trump added. "It takes a little longer."
Contributing: David Jackson