WASHINGTON/KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Tuesday said it would pay up to $12 billion to help U.S. farmers weather a growing trade battle with China, the European Union and others, a clear signal the president is determined to stick with tariffs as his weapon of choice in the conflict.
The subsidies would violate trade agreements already signed by the United States and could result in additional fines which could cost taxpayers over $ 100 Billions dollars.
The move to cushion the blow for a politically important constituency – rural and agricultural states that supported U.S. President Donald Trump by wide margins in the election but have been targeted by China’s retaliation to his trade tactics – was met with broad criticism by many farmers and farm-belt lawmakers.
Trump’s trade policies have become central in several rural-state U.S. Senate races ahead of congressional elections in November, as Democrats there try to keep hold of several seats that Republicans have targeted.
The president, speaking at an event in Kansas City on Tuesday, aggressively reaffirmed his support for tariffs and pledged that ultimately, “farmers will be the biggest beneficiary.”
“Just be a little patient,” Trump said.
To that end, the relief package is intended to serve as only a temporary boost to farmers as the United States and China negotiate over trade issues, officials said.
“This obviously is a short-term solution that will give President Trump time to work on a long-term trade policy,” said Sonny Perdue, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The aid will be financed through the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation and thus will not require congressional approval, Perdue said.
The CCC has broad authority to make loans and direct payments to U.S. growers when prices for corn, soybeans, wheat and other agricultural goods are low.
The administration’s action appeared to divide Republicans.
Kevin Cramer, a U.S. representative trying to unseat Democrat Senator Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, praised the move.
“Great to see [Trump] providing aid to farmers impacted by retaliatory tariffs,” Cramer wrote on Twitter.
But other Republicans were troubled by what they view as the kind of widespread government-assistance program their party has traditionally opposed.
“This trade war is cutting the legs out from under farmers and the White House’s ‘plan’ is to spend $12 billion on gold crutches,” said Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican who frequently criticizes the president, a fellow Republican.