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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Lisa Brown: Congress has failed our farmers; it’s time for new leadership.

UPDATED: Sun., July 29, 2018

Lisa Brown

For farmers, unpredictability is a part of life. Weather, water, snowpack, weeds, pests, even Wall Street – all of them are variables that pose a threat to each year’s harvest.

But this year, farmers and ranchers in Eastern Washington are facing even more uncertainty, created by unilateral action on tariffs, an escalating trade war, the lack of international trade agreements, a farm bill dragged down by partisan dysfunction in Congress, and an attack on food assistance that would hurt Eastern Washington families.

Farm income was already projected to be the lowest in 12 years, even before farmers and ranchers began to bear the brunt of the trade war started by the administration. Farmers tell me that they have not faced this level of threat to their livelihood for decades. And as we all know in Eastern Washington, as goes agriculture so go our communities and businesses, which are so tied to our agricultural economy.

Tariffs are taxes, and the Trump administration has announced $144.86 billion of them, according to the Tax Foundation. It comes as no surprise to anyone who’s taken Econ. 101 that in retaliation our trading partners have announced their own tariffs of the same magnitude. Regardless of how they’re initially imposed, tariffs result in higher prices for consumers and less revenue for businesses. It’s the wrong economic approach, and it jeopardizes trade relationships that have taken decades to cultivate, particularly in Asian markets.

The administration withdrew from multilateral trade agreements, promising to replace them with bilateral agreements, but has failed to deliver on that promise, leaving our farmers and manufacturers in a vulnerable position and at a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace.

Adding to the current distress, for the first time in decades, the House failed to pass a bipartisan farm bill. The Senate version of the bill has bipartisan support and is better for Eastern Washington farmers in funding for conservation programs, research, and food assistance for hungry families.

Meanwhile, the administration is scrambling to mitigate the damage caused by the president’s trade war. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue recently announced a new short-term financial aid package for farmers. Farmers across the country have denounced the package, saying it’s not a real solution to the problems the administration created. They want trade, not aid.

The administration just doesn’t get it. About two weeks ago, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro downplayed the damage to trade that tariffs are causing, calling it only a “rounding error” compared to the overall economy. Multigenerational farms and ranches in Eastern Washington are at stake and hundreds of millions of dollars of Washington’s economy are hanging in the balance. That is not a “rounding error” to us, Mr. Navarro.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers doesn’t seem to get it either – or perhaps she’s just playing it safe and ensuring she doesn’t end up at odds with the administration or her party. Either way, she has not been effective in delivering better results for Eastern Washington agriculture. She’s expressed “disappointment” about tariffs and “concern” about trade agreements, but has not taken or even suggested actual congressional actions to stand up to the administration and do what’s best for the farmers and families in her district.

I’m running for Congress to be a new voice for farmers and ranchers and will put our priorities over party talking points. As an economist, I’ll be an independent advocate and do what’s best for Eastern Washington, Northwest agriculture, and Washington state’s trade-based economy. I also want to serve on the House Agriculture Committee which, believe it or not, has no representation from Washington, Oregon, Idaho or Montana – Republican or Democrat.

In an address to the nation in 1988, President Ronald Reagan said, “We should beware of the demagogues who are ready to declare a trade war against our friends – weakening our economy, our national security, and the entire free world – all while cynically waving the American flag.”

Those words came from an era when congressman Tom Foley and congressman Bob Dole worked together to write a bipartisan farm bill.

As you fill out your ballots in the next week, imagine what we could accomplish if we returned that spirit of cooperation to Congress.

Lisa Brown, an economist, former professor, former WSU Spokane chancellor and former Washington state Senate majority leader, is a candidate for the 5th Congressional District of Washington.

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