President Donald Trump set off a wave of outrage on Tuesday among Republican lawmakers, who accused the president of authorizing a “bailout” and “welfare” for Americans caught in the crosshairs of his own tariffs.
“It’s awful. American farmers want markets, not handouts. This is what we feared all along—that this would just turn into more aid programs,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) told The Daily Beast.
Reactions—nearly all of them negative—poured in from Capitol Hill after the Department of Agriculture announced that it would authorize $12 billion in “emergency” subsidies to farmers whose businesses have been hurt by the president’s trade policies, which have sparked retaliatory tariffs from China, Canada, Mexico, and the European Union.
Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said the Department of Agriculture’s decision is an acknowledgement of the “unintended consequences” and “collateral damage” of Trump’s protectionist policies, while Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) said Trump was creating a “Soviet type economy.” Others questioned the administration’s overall strategy but said the newly authorized subsidies were a necessary buffer to help farmers that have already been adversely affected by the swelling trade war.
“They’re not going to be able to survive if this continues down the same path,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) said of the farmers in his state. “If it means having a short-term aid package, that’s better than nothing. Certainly we all agree that a free-trade plan long-term is really what we need.”
Conservative lawmakers, who have long derided bailouts and welfare, suggested that the Trump administration was embracing liberal economics.
“Our farmers have been in non-stop saying they want trade not aid. And now they’re being put on welfare. So the tariff policies that have been put in place by the administration are now causing them to invoke a welfare policy for our farmers, which I’m sure is not what they wish,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who has proposed legislation requiring congressional approval of some tariffs, told reporters.
“The administration creates a problem for farmers, and now they need to put them on welfare. I think that’s kind of a misplaced policy,” Corker added.
In a later statement, the senator said Tuesday’s announcement was an implicit admission from the Trump administration that its tariff policies are not working. “I am glad that the administration finally seems to understand that the Trump-Pence tariffs are hurting the American people,” he said.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), whose constituents have been ravaged by the president’s trade policies, said the Trump administration should expedite its trade talks with China and other nations in order to lessen the global trade barriers—something the senator said would “do more good than that $12 billion.”
But to date, Congress has done little to substantively push back on Trump’s penchant to impose tariffs in order to correct trade imbalances, even as they’ve warned that the tariffs could hurt Republicans running for re-election this year. Corker’s bill has broad bipartisan support but Senate Republican leaders have thus far declined to take up the legislation.
“What is the endgame? What is it that gets us into, or keeps us in a [trade] agreement? And what gets us out of the ever-escalating tariff one-upsmanship?” a frustrated Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) said.