By David Meyer
July 25, 2018

The White House has decided to direct $12 billion in emergency aid to American farmers, to help take the sting out of the trade war that President Donald Trump started. According to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, this is a “short-term solution that will give President Trump and his administration time to work on long-term trade deals.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle aren’t so sure about that roadmap. According to the Wall Street Journal, South Dakota Senator Mike Rounds, a Republican, asked: “At what point do we start seeing things move out of the chaotic state they are in now and to where we actually see new trade agreements?” And Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp, from North Dakota, argued that the sum would be vastly insufficient if the trade war escalates.

The sum on offer here is unprecedented, with such bailouts usually being reserved for recessions or periods of low agricultural commodity prices.

The move is quite clearly designed to prop up a key sector of Trump’s support base, as the fallout from his trade war starts to settle. That American farmers have been hard hit is no accident. While the U.S.’s tariffs on imports from China, the EU, Canada and Mexico have been relatively blunt, those levied in retaliation have been targeted with great precision at Trump’s base, which includes the producers of products such as pork and soybeans. And so, meat is now being stockpiled and jobs are on the line.

The question now is whether the agricultural aid will win over voters ahead of the mid-terms; it certainly hasn’t pleased the high priests of free trade within the Republican Party.

“Taxpayers are going to be asked to initial checks to farmers in lieu of having a trade policy that actually opens and expands more markets. There isn’t anything about this that anybody should like,” said South Dakota Senator John Thune, a senior GOP figure, while Senator Ron Johnson (R–Wis.) raised the specter of the Soviet Union and its infamous central planning.

Luckily for Trump, he doesn’t need Congress to authorize this bailout. But everyone had better hope his trade tactics pay off soon, if this isn’t going to become a burdensome trend.

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