Bill Kaplan: GOP failing farmers and other regular folks

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by WisOpinion.com.

The Farm Journal headline said it all: “Farmers Helped Elect Trump, But Trade Wars Erode Their Support”. Its survey showed Trump’s poll numbers sinking. “That’s because the trade wars strike the balance sheets of farmers who are already fighting through the fourth year of tough times – with no relief on the horizon” (Farm Journal). A clueless Trump has declared a trade war against the world. And, a spineless GOP-led Congress has abandoned longstanding Republican free trade principles. Meanwhile, Wisconsin GOP Governor Scott Walker, supposedly “unintimidated”, whispers fecklessly.

Wisconsin farmers are reeling. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) headline: “U.S. Cranberry Industry Feels the Bite of Retaliatory Tariffs”. Wisconsin growers produce the most cranberries in America. They were “already beset by falling prices” (WSJ). So trade wars with loss of export markets spell doom. “Mark Mariani … of Mariani Premium Dried Fruits, which employs about 400 workers in Wisconsin, said his largest export market was China, and he is watching his warehouses fill with excess supply” (WSJ).

Retaliatory tariffs from Canada, China, Mexico and the European Union are hitting state dairy farmers hard. Wisconsin Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin said: “The retaliatory tariffs are also taking effect at a time when the agriculture economy is already facing severe challenges with low prices and oversupplies. In the past year, Wisconsin has lost more than 500 dairy farms”. When Wisconsin dairy farmers lose export markets for cheese and other dairy products it means the ruin of farm equipment suppliers, trouble for community banks when loans can’t be repaid and the hollowing out of small towns.

Same story for producers of beef and pork. Also true for farmers growing corn, ginseng, kidney beans and soybeans. Trump’s self-inflicted farm disaster is occurring in an election year. Congressional Republicans, already facing the loss of the House, pushed the panic button. Trump announced a short-term aid program for farmers. It was a “tacit acknowledgment that the trade war is hurting people in the United States …” (Washington Post). Ohio GOP Governor John Kasich said: “You have to wonder, is this about vote-buying?”

And, other GOP policies will hit rural Wisconsinites with a sledgehammer. Take health care. Many in rural counties are getting generous subsidies to buy private insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The subsidies are often higher in rural areas because of fewer health and insurance providers. But Governor Walker wants to blow up the ACA. Walker and his Attorney General, Brad Schimel, with 19 other GOP-led states, asked a federal judge to declare the ACA unconstitutional. Worse, they want an immediate permanent injunction to prohibit the government “from implementing, regulating, enforcing, or otherwise acting under the authority of the ACA”. Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites will lose coverage. So much for “bipartisan” Walker – more like heartless Walker.

Senator Baldwin has denounced Walker and his lawsuit, making the point that 852,000 Wisconsinites with preexisting conditions could lose coverage. Farmers and other rural Wisconsinites need to “raise hell” and vote Democratic to save their farms and health.

— Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C. for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

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