Political News

'A Band-Aid on a broken leg': Farmers say Trump's aid package isn't enough

Posted July 24, 2018 5:16 p.m. EDT

— The Trump administration's move on Tuesday to help farmers hurt by the trade wars has not stopped the barrage of criticism it has faced over its underlying trade policy.

President Donald Trump has taken a beating for months over how his tit-for-tat trade wars with China and a host of friendly countries has affected farmers across America. And on Tuesday, the administration decided to act, pledging $12 billion in aid to farmers impacted by the trade wars.

In fields across the country and even in some Republicans offices in Washington, the reaction was similar: It's not enough.

"It's a Band-Aid on a broken leg," said Michael Petefish, a 33-year-old Trump supporter and fifth generation soybean farmer in southern Minnesota. "And to be blunt, it seems pretty political and seems like they want to shore up some midterm support."

He added: "Pretend someone smashed your car, and then someone said, 'Don't worry, I will give you a ride to the next place you have to go.' Well, thank you, I appreciate the ride, but what am I going to do the next 10 rides I need after that?"

Joel Schreurs, a soybean farmer from Tyler, Minnesota, said the plan was a "good start" but not a fix that works in the long run.

"I firmly believe we need to either create more markets or be able to work it out with China because we are going to produce way too many soybeans for the markets that we have," he said. "It's a short-term fix."

Schreurs said the economics of the issue make it difficult to solve. He grows about 25,000 bushels of soybeans a year, so if the price goes down $2, that costs him around $50,000.

"Not many people would like it if they took $50,000 away from their business when it is something that they didn't have anything to do with," Schreurs said.

The decision to authorize up to $12 billion in funding for farmers hurt by tariffs comes after months of negative headlines, primarily in communities and states Trump won in 2016. Rural voters -- many who have deep ties to farming -- helped catapult Trump to the presidency in 2016, and China's retaliatory tariffs specifically targeted politically important states and areas.

Republican leaders across the country have been raising alarm bells to the administration for months, worried that antipathy towards the administration from base Republican voters would make an already precarious midterm election season more dangerous for Republicans.

"It's desperate," a Republican operative working on the midterms told CNN on Tuesday. Though the Republican said they would happily welcome the political benefits that will come from the farm aid plan, they worried the damage may already be done with growers whose farm prices and commodity prices have shrunk in recent months.

"It doesn't make me feel any better," the operative said. "The White House is finally realizing that this isn't going to get better before ballots are cast."

Trump publicly gave those concerns little due.

"Tariffs are the greatest! Either a country which has treated the United States unfairly on Trade negotiates a fair deal, or it gets hit with Tariffs," Trump wrote on Tuesday. "It's as simple as that - and everybody's talking! Remember, we are the "piggy bank" that's being robbed. All will be Great!"

While the President also attempted to blame farming issue on his predecessors, inside Republican circles, operatives tasked with keeping Republican majorities in the House and Senate privately worried.

The funds, however, will not be spent until Labor Day in early September, the Department of Agriculture said Tuesday, just months before the midterm elections.

And the general reaction from farmers, many of whom would benefit from the payments, is that it's a short-term fix that won't work in the long run.

Nationals Farmers Union President Roger Johnson calls the Trump administration's plan to cut checks to farmers impacted by the trade war "a short-term fix to a long-term problem."

"The administration must develop a support mechanism that will mitigate the significant damage that is being inflicted upon our most vital international markets for years to come," he said in a statement. "They should do this by working with Congress to ensure farm bill programs provide enough assistance to farmers when markets collapse."

Soybean prices -- in the face of trade fears with China -- have hovered around historic lows for months, leading Republican lawmakers in red states to raise red flags about the impact these tariffs could have on Trump country.

"The $12 billion in farm aid announced today will provide a short-term fix, but it's not a long-term solution," Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in response to the Trump announcement. "As I've said all along, nobody wins in a trade war."

South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune, whose state produces significant pork, soybeans and grains, slammed the decision to offer farmers aid without fixing the root problem.

"It's a Band-Aid," Thune told CNN's Ted Barrett. "It's a short-term solution and it doesn't solve any of the problems agriculture has got right now."

He added: "I appreciate the fact that they realize the farmers are being hurt by this, but this is not the right remedy."

And the Koch Brothers-aligned Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips poured cold water on the plan shortly after it was announced.

"$12 billion to aid farmers means the US is essentially borrowing from China to offset the costs of tariffs imposed by China," Phillips said. "It doesn't get more Washington than that."