Politics & Government

Trump aid to farmers harmed by tariffs called ‘band-aid’ by Kansas congressman

A$12 billion plan to aid farmers affected by President Donald Trump’s trade disputes with China and other countries drew a cool response on Tuesday from Kansas senators.

One Kansas congressman called the plan a “band-aid on a deep wound.”

Trump backed his tariff policy Tuesday in a tweet and in a boisterous speech in Kansas City, where he said the United States is making tremendous progress.

“You’ve gotta stick it out,” Trump told the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention.“We’ve gotta fight it. … The farmers are going to be the biggest beneficiaries. Just be a little patient.”

The United States Department of Agriculture said it will authorize what it called a short-term relief strategy for farmers affected by retaliatory tariffs imposed by China and other countries. The agency said the proposal would include direct assistance for farmers, purchases of excess crops and trade promotion activities aimed at building new export markets.

Federal officials said the plan would not require congressional approval and would come through the Commodity Credit Corporation, a wing of the department that addresses agricultural prices.

It was not immediately clear how much aid Kansas farmers will receive.

“Well, I’ll take a look at it,” Sen. Pat Roberts, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, told reporters in Washington. He echoed others who have raised concerns that tariffs could make it more difficult for farmers to obtain loans and could hurt agricultural land values.

“It’s problematic to say the least,” said Roberts, who has said in the past that farmers would rather trade than receive aid.

‘Exports matter’

Sen. Jerry Moran said he wants the Trump administration to understand the importance of exports. He indicated the aid plan underscores how much farmers depend on trade.

“And if you’re having to come up with $12 billion to compensate farmers, that’s a pretty good message that exports matter and our preference would be for an income to come from selling agricultural commodities around the world,” Moran said.

The United States implemented $34 billion in tariffs on Chinese products this summer. In response, China announced an equivalent amount in retaliatory tariffs, including on agricultural products like wheat, soybeans and cattle.

Commodity prices were already low before the trade war began, and farmers and others fear a prolonged conflict will only add to the financial pressure faced by the agricultural industry.

Farmers are already stretched thin, and the current unrest in the commodities markets is hurting, not helping, said Rep. Ron Estes, who represents the Fourth Congressional District. He said the aid program is welcome news for Kansas farmers and ranchers but only a short-term fix.

“While I support President Trump’s desire to negotiate a level playing field with our trade partners, we need a targeted approach that embraces free and fair trade over tariffs and protectionism,” Estes said in a statement.

Farmers told to ‘hang on’

Many Kansas farmers trust Trump’s trade strategies and believe Trump will work out better trade deals, said Daniel Heady, director of governmental affairs at Kansas Wheat, which advocates for the state’s wheat growers.

Still, Heady said, the group wants to see a resolution to the ongoing trade disputes.

“I know trade deals can’t be done overnight but it would be really great, and would provide a lot of predictability and stability for farmers, if we knew what the end game was and what we’re trying to do,” Heady said.

Trump has shown no sign of backing down in the trade dispute. He tweeted Tuesday that “Tariffs are the greatest!”

Speaking in Kansas City, Trump said his trade policy was producing “tremendous progress.”

As for reports of his trade war having a negative impact on American farmers,Trump was dismissive.

“What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” Trump said.

Rep. Roger Marshall, who represents Kansas’ First Congressional District, called the $12 billion aid package a band-aid. He said no one wants to see government payments instead of access to markets, but added the country needs to take care of agricultural producers while the administration works to end unfair trading practices by other countries.

“I think the message sent today by the USDA is for our farmers to hang on and believe in this administration, that our farmers are not being forgotten about,” Marshall said in a statement.

Glenn Brunkow, who farms corn, soybeans and other crops near Wamego, said he doesn’t like the idea of having to rely on aid. He said USDA’s aid announcement on Tuesday makes him think the administration doesn’t expect an end to trade disputes soon.

“Up until that aid package was announced I was going along with the idea that we could probably get something worked out and prices would recover quite a bit,” Brunkow said. “We’ll see.”

Contributing: The Star’s Bryan Lowry, McClatchy DC’s Emma Dumain and the Associated Press

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