Congress Grows A Spine…Sorta

Trade War PushbackCongress Grows A Spine…SortaWeary and worried, some on the Hill speak up. It's not enough.

Agriculture, Budget & Tax,  | Quick Take
Sep 14, 2018  | 5 min read | Print Article

The Senate Committee on Agriculture held a hearing this week to discuss the Trump Administration’s “Perspectives on U.S. Agricultural Trade.” The Ag Committee spoke with three members of the Trump Administration over ag trade policy: Gregg Doud, chief agricultural negotiator for the United States Trade Representative; Ted McKinney, Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs for the USDA; and Dr. Robert Johannson, chief economist for the USDA.

Senators Roberts (R-KS), Klobuchar (D-MN), and Boozman (R-AR) asked about the progression of bilateral trade agreements with other countries. Gregg Doud mentioned the continuing negotiations on NAFTA with Canada, particularly in relation to their dairy supply management system, as well as expanding market access with Japan, India, Australia, and the European Union. Most Senators said they trusted the administration to do what’s right, but there was obvious concern about the loss of markets for ag producers due to tariffs. Ted McKinney spoke of ag trade missions to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, as well as easing regulations on citrus and beef in the EU, potato chips in Japan, pork into Argentina, and poultry in Morocco. All three witnesses also talked about the upcoming trade mitigation programs for ag producers affected by the trade war.

Senators Stabenow (D-MI), Klobuchar, and Ernst (R-IA) were particularly interested in the methodology used for doling out $12 billion in hush money for ag producers, which was later released on USDA’s website. A select few, including Senators Donnelly (D-IN) and Bennet (D-CO), argued that farmers wouldn’t be suffering right now if it weren’t for the administration’s self-inflicted trade war.

Casualties Of The Trade War

Six months since the Trump Administration threw a tariff wrench into the economy, Congress hasn’t done much to influence Trump’s poorly focused trade war. On July 11, during debate on the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, the Senate adopted a motion to instruct (88-11) providing a role for Congress in making a determination under section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. President Trump is using section 232, which states that the executive branch has the authority to apply tariffs on imports if they affect national security, to justify tariffs on imported aluminum and steel. Even though most imported steel and aluminum comes from our allies.

And we’re not done yet. Coming up soon:

  • Increased tariffs on $200 billion worth of goods imported from China may go into effect any moment.
  • Canada and the U.S. are still negotiating over spilled milk. While the U.S. and Mexico have reached an agreement over a new NAFTA, the U.S. and Canada are still negotiating over dairy policy.
  • Solicitations for Trump’s hush money are ongoing. The Agricultural Marketing Service is in charge of the food purchase and distribution portion of the Trade Mitigation Program. Pre-solicitations went out this week.

Bueller…Bueller…Congress

Meanwhile, back on the Hill: Not a peep from Congress, through all this. No substantive steps to legislate an end to Trump’s trade war.

Which is why it was actually refreshing to hear some Senators say that we wouldn’t be in this trade war if Trump didn’t implement tariffs on aluminum and steel. It wasn’t so refreshing when Senators begged for specific commodities to receive more money from the upcoming trade mitigation payments. And it was downright annoying and wrong when Senators praised the administration for the payments, saying they provided farmers “certainty” in tough times. Newsflash: opening up markets for our farmers creates opportunity to succeed, not tariffs, or replacing trade with federal welfare checks.

Congress – which controls the power of the purse and can in fact say no to the president, two facts it seems to frequently forget – needs to reassert itself and pressure the administration to stop spending taxpayer dollars on fiscally irresponsible blunders like this trade war. All it’s helping us do is lose markets and destroy businesses, and ultimately at the taxpayer’s expense.

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