No respectable economist, let alone one who has studied and preached the benefits of market economics will tell you President Trump’s trade war makes economic sense. Indeed we know it makes no sense because the White House has already had to intervene to prevent economic hardship to farmers.

James Pethokoukis at the American Enterprise Institute writes, “Make no mistake, running a protectionist trade policy is another form of government intervention and central planning in the American economy. Imagine what’s happening in the Trump administration right now.” He suggests, “Officials, probably pouring [sic] over spreadsheets, are picking and choosing which imported products to hit with tariffs, or import taxes. That means, of course, choosing winners and losers. Steel tariffs might help domestic steel producers but hurt steel users. But that’s a political choice.” And compensating farmers by handing out what amounts to welfare checks is precisely the kind of central planning gimmick — to compensate the losers government has created — that conservatives used to ridicule.

It’s also not pleasing the recipients of Trump’s tariff/welfare scheme. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) told the Hill: “At the end of the day, farmers don’t want a check, they want a market.” Trump’s nonsensical trade plan surely is not restoring dignity to the forgotten man or woman; it’s making them wards of the federal government.

A number of Republicans are complaining loudly; the only hitch is that they won’t do anything. Politico reports:

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said Trump is giving farmers “golden crutches,” while Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said “this bailout compounds bad policy with more bad policy.” Toomey and GOP Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee said their legislation to tie the president’s hands on tariffs should pick up new steam now that the Trump administration is distorting the market.
“This is what we feared all along, that these markets would be replaced by handouts,” Flake said. “You lose some of these markets, you lose them for good or a long time.”
“You put people in the poorhouse and provide them aid. What you need to do is not put them in the poorhouse,” Corker said. “They put in place a policy that requires farmers to go on welfare.” . . .
The frustration was shared by House Republicans. Rep. Dave Reichert of Washington, who chairs a subcommittee on trade, said the policy might be helpful to farmers in the short term but that it does little to preserve market access lost due to tariffs. “Some in the ag community, they say, ‘That’s great, thank you for the help’ — except that the problem then becomes we’ve lost the market, so how do we get the market back?” he said. “That’s the question.”

It’s hard to remember these people control a branch of government empowered by the Constitution to regulate trade and control tariffs,  a body co-equal to the president and responsible not to him but to their constituents.  If not for their inordinate fear of Trump, they swiftly could put an end to this kabuki economic policy. They could, as previous GOP lawmakers did with regard to the car bailout and the bank bailouts, vote against the farm bailout so the full impact of Trump’s monstrously dumb policies could be felt. They could take back trade authority or eliminate the national security provision Trump has abused.

Unfortunately for millions of Americans — consumers, farmers, workers in affected industries, taxpayers — the GOP House and Senate leadership would rather let their constituents suffer real economic hardship than stand up to the president. While it is hard to fathom why grown men and women are such fraidy-cats, the good news is that voters can throw them out of the majority and find lawmakers who don’t tremble before Trump. Then Democrats can put an end to policies Republicans know are wrongheaded but are too scared to halt.

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