President Donald Trump faced criticism from both sides of the aisle Wednesday over a planned $12 billion aid package for U.S. farmers that lawmakers say is only necessary because of the administration’s trade policies.
The funds announced Tuesday by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue include direct payments to farms, government purchases of crops, and efforts to find new markets for U.S. agriculture abroad. The administration estimates farmers have lost about $11 billion due to retaliatory tariffs imposed on the U.S. in what is growing into a multi-front trade war.
“The programs we are announcing today are a firm statement that other nations cannot bully our agricultural producers to force the United States to cave in,” Perdue said during a conference call with reporters, according to Politico.
House Republicans who represent agriculture-heavy districts were underwhelmed by the announcement, expressing concerns about the precedent it sets and the problems it leaves unresolved.
“As a farmer, I’ve never been a huge fan of the government getting involved in this type of role because it’s hard to figure out where the money is best spent,” said Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif.
According to Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., Illinois farmers want robust, fair trade rather than government handouts.
“I don’t think giving aid is the right approach,” he said. “Instead, you have to have trade. Subsidizing farmers is not the right approach. Where does that end? That’s not a long-term solution.”
Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., agreed that this represents a short-term Band-Aid at best and farmers would prefer agreements that lead to more trade in more open markets instead.
“I would rather not see this backstop in place, but the president and his administration believe it’s a proper thing to put on the table, especially while they are negotiating with some of our trading partners,” Davis said.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., dismissed the payout as an attempt to fix a problem Trump created.
“This is a self-inflicted wound and it is exactly the opposite of what President Trump just asserted, that he’s opening up markets. he’s closing down markets,” he said.
The president defended his approach on Twitter Wednesday, and he accused those criticizing him of undermining his negotiating position.
“When you have people snipping at your heels during a negotiation, it will only take longer to make a deal, and the deal will never be as good as it could have been with unity,” he wrote. “Negotiations are going really well, be cool. The end result will be worth it!”
Trump also attacked “weak politicians” who question the tariffs he has placed on goods from traditionally strong trading partners like Canada, Mexico, and the European Union.
“I wonder, what can they be thinking?” he tweeted. “Are we just going to continue and let our farmers and country get ripped off? Lost $817 Billion on Trade last year. No weakness!”
GOP lawmakers say their constituents remain confident that the president is representing their interests and they appreciate that he is trying to address iniquities in trade that have long troubled them. Those constituents are the ones getting nervous about the tariffs, though.
“They’re all concerned with the tariffs and they know it’s starting to have an impact,” Valadao said. “They’re willing to take a little bit of pain if they get a better deal…but it has to be for the right reason.”
While Trump often focuses on overall trade deficits, LaHood stressed that the U.S. has a trade surplus with every country on agriculture goods, potentially making farmers more vulnerable to retaliation than some other industries.
“When you get in a trade war, they’re affected by this,” he said. “We need to have robust trade agreements.”
One point where Trump does tend to find bipartisan agreement is his complaints about China’s unfair trade practices. However, members of Congress argued the U.S. would be better served by focusing on that problem instead of waging battle against allies and enemies alike all at the same time.
“We ought to go after the Chinese because of things they’ve done, but do it in a more surgical way,” LaHood said. “Get with our allies and go after the Chinese. When you get into a broad trade war, there’s ramifications that will affect our agriculture industry and we’re seeing that.”