America Alone

This morning’s softly falling snow and below freezing temperature make it evident that winter’s early end, suggested by two muddy, 50-degree days last week, was just a rumor. The season’s hard evidence—frozen ground, frozen lake, frozen me—is back and will remain so, predicts the National Weather Service, well into February.

Frozen, also, are federal budget fights, the immigration standoff, NAFTA talks, infrastructure plans, the dicamba debate…

Congress is moving as slow as molasses, too. After all agreed to end the latest government shutdown Jan. 22, the House calendar shows it will be in session exactly four-and-one-half days before the government again runs out of money Feb. 8.

Congress’s failure to do its budget work is neither new nor news. In the 40 years since it “reformed” its own appropriation process, Congress has passed full-year federal budgets just four times—1977, when the reforms took effect, 1989, 1995, and 1997.

Despite that bipartisan record of failure, the House Ag Committee ambitiously hopes it can pass its 2018 Farm Bill by spring. That’s more a dream than a hope because with no federal budget to guide spending, Congressional committees can’t really know what to include or exclude in forthcoming legislation.

The Senate Ag Committee has an even steeper climb. Nine of its 21 members are running for reelection and, whoa, eight are Democrats from states President Trump won (some bigly) in 2016. Any guess on how focused these folks will be on the Farm Bill this year?

If President Trump’s State of the Union address is any indication, three other top items on every rural legislator’s to-do list—trade, infrastructure, and the budget deficit—are slipping off the White House radar screen. Infrastructure merited the longest mention in the speech, but only as some hazy, $1.5 trillion private-public partnership no one in Congress sees as either doable or even serious.

Serious—as in “Are you serious?”—seems to be the operative word on trade, too.

While at the recent masters of the universe convention in Switzerland, the President again complained about how the U.S. is global trade’s biggest patsy. This time Europe got the troubling Trump Trade Tirade: “I’ve had a lot of problems with the European Union, and it may morph into something very big from that standpoint, from a trade standpoint.”

A few days later, after Round Six of the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) talks concluded in Montreal, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer again confronted Canada’s negotiator, Chrystia Freeland, over what he said was America’s “$87 billion trade deficit” with its northern neighbor. Freeland, standing next to Lighthizer in the press conference where he made the charge, replied that his facts were not only wrong, but that they were dead wrong.

“Freeland came armed with her own numbers to rebut his claim,” reported CBC News Jan. 29, “citing figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis in the Department of Commerce, which she said found Canada had an $8 billion deficit in overall trade with the U.S.”

Note “Freeland came armed with her own numbers”—U.S.-based, no less—“to rebut his claim.” She knew Lighthizer would stretch the facts to make some rubbery point, and she arrived prepared to deflate it.

Lighthizer’s approach, however, is how this Administration rolls. Left unchallenged, it says and does things that are wrong in fact and dumb in effect.

For example, if you add up the White House’s swift departure from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership last year, its going-nowhere NAFTA negotiations this year, and now its new “problems” with EU trade practices, Trump’s America First trade strategy looks more like America Alone.

That approach is both dumb for the nation and deadly for America’s farmers and ranchers because, whether you or I think it’s the right farm policy or not, Congress is writing a multi-year Farm Bill completely tied to trade.

Which begs the simple question: With whom?

© 2018 ag comm

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