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Farm bailout piles bad policy on bad policy

First, the president launched a trade war. Now he's planning a $12 billion bailout to cover some of the financial damage — just the short-term financial damage — inflicted on farmers.

What sense does this make?

The White House announced recently that it will make up to $12 billion in emergency relief available to farmers affected by the U.S.-initiated trade war, which has pushed down crop prices and threatens to undo years of work to expand U.S. trade worldwide.

In announcing the bailout, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue made it crystal clear that the administration has no intention of backing down from the increasingly bellicose threats to impose a tariff on just about everything imported from China, much less the tariffs imposed or planned for other global trading partners.

"The actions today are a firm statement that other nations cannot bully our agricultural producers to force the United States to cave in," Perdue said during a call with reporters Tuesday.

If there was any inclination among farm leaders to greet the $12 billion in direct payments to farmers warmly, that comment undid it. Farmers and farm state political leaders have been remarkably patient as the president has threatened tariffs and commodity prices have plunged. But the whole concept of billion-dollar bailouts has provoked strong opposition from congressional leaders of both parties, who are deeply concerned about the president's trade policies.

Kevin Paap, the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation president, responded fairly mildly Wednesday, calling the bailout plan "reassuring," but he said the organization "strongly believes that farmers prefer to maintain and expand markets for their products first and foremost."

The National Farmers Union president was less forgiving: "President Trump's escalating trade war with China and much of the rest of the world requires that we go to significant lengths to protect the men and women who grow our food, fuel and fiber," Roger Johnson said.

"Market prices for farm products are plunging from already very low levels, and it's been estimated that farmers lost more than $13 billion last month alone due to trade disruptions ... 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."

What's most baffling to Trump's supporters in Congress and in farm country is why he's doing this at all, and others asked where the demands for bailouts will end. Farmers aren't the only ones hurt by the president's hard-edged attempts to negotiate new trade deals with our friends — this newspaper, among others, has been hurt by Trump's threatened tariff on Canadian newsprint.

According to The New York Times, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, asked how the president can single out farmers for a $12 billion bailout when manufacturers, energy companies and every other economic sector is being affected. "Where do you draw the line?"

The White House is "trying to put a Band-Aid on a self-inflicted wound," Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, noted on Twitter. "This bailout compounds bad policy with more bad policy."

President Trump, who recently tweeted, "Tariffs are the greatest!,"needs to hear clearly — and not just from farmers — that this trade war is a gaping wound that a crate full of Band-Aids won't fix.

The administration needs to step back and rethink what it's doing to farm country before it's too late.

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