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The DC Republicans’ Trade And Agriculture Policies Have Devastated Nebraska’s Farmers

Nebraska has been a loyal Republican state in presidential elections for decades. With the exception of 1964 and 2008, GOP presidential nominees have carried all of Nebraska’s electoral votes in every election cycle since 1940. In 2016, Trump carried Nebraska over Clinton by a 59% to 34% margin and carried 91 out of 93 counties. Only Douglas and Lancaster counties went for Clinton.

Similarly, Nebraska’s Congressional delegation has been very loyal to Trump. With the exception of Sasse, Nebraska’s Congressional delegation supports Trump anywhere from 93% to 98% of the time. Sasse’s support of Trump on 86% of roll call votes is somewhat misleading because Sasse has loyally toed the Trump line since January 20, 2017. Sasse’s score is a little bit lower because he usually votes against spending bills and to maintain government shutdowns. (Apparently, Trump isn’t radical enough for Nebraska’s junior Senator.)

All of this goes under the heading of no good deed goes unpunished. Trump’s trade and agriculture policies have devastated Nebraska’s farm sector. And all of this has been done with the loyal support of Nebraska’s Congressional Republicans.

Since Trump was inaugurated, Nebraska’s farm economy has sharply declined. Average farm income is presently at its lowest level since 2002 and farm bankruptcies in Nebraska have tripled. “The farm economy’s in pretty tough shape,” said John Newton, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation. “When you look out on the horizon of things to come, you start to see some cracks.”

This deep agricultural recession is no accident — it is the direct result of Trump’s disastrous policies. Since January 20, 2017, Trump has waged a trade war against China, the EU, Mexico and Canada in the hopes of getting a better deal for the U.S. Thus far, Trump’s efforts have been a miserable failure and he has very little to show for it. Unfortunately, Nebraska’s farmers have been collateral damage in these misguided wars.

The numbers don’t lie — America’s farmers are getting crushed. Currently, Trump’s trade war is costing America’s businesses and consumers $3 billion per month. Already, the trade war has cost America $40 billion in exports in 2018 — with no end in sight. Finally, according to Purdue University, the Administration’s withdrawal from TPP will cost farmers $2 billion per year.

The trade war isn’t the only Trump policy that is hurting Nebraska’s farmers. The regressive Trump budget has proposed a 15% cut in what it calls “overly generous” agricultural subsidies. (The Administration hasn’t expressed any qualms about overly generous subsidies for billionaires and big corporations.) Moreover, the 2017 tax bill has placed a cap on the local and state tax deduction — thus rubbing salt in the wounds of farmers who are already bearing a heavy property tax burden.

While Trump has hurt Nebraska, our spineless and supine Congressional delegation has done nothing to stop him. Bills limiting Trump’s tariff increases could easily pass with overwhelming bi-partisan support over the former TV reality star’s veto but our delegation does nothing other than lodge an occasional feeble protest. A typical response was one from Jeff Fortenberry in which he said: “ The tariffs on China may or may not prove to be a beneficial move for the U.S.”

A source in the agricultural industry told me that the farmers were able to barely hold on in 2018 because prices for their commodities had already been locked in before the big hit from the trade war. However, I was told that all bets are off in 2019 — many farmers won’t make it. “It’s clear that we are at a tipping point for a growing number of producers,” said Marc Knisely, CEO of Fargo-based AgCountry Farm Credit Services. “You can only lose money for so long. We’re at a vulnerable stage.”

All of this creates a big opportunity for Democrats running for office in Nebraska (and other farm based states) in 2020. I expect the voters in Nebraska’s small towns and rural areas to soon have a bad case of buyer’s remorse. This sets up a big opportunity for Nebraska’s Democratic candidates. “If the farm economy continues to get worse in the run-up to 2020, my sense is that this will be devastating to Trump,” said Gregory Wawro, political science professor at Columbia University. “Although it is difficult to defeat a sitting president, it is hard to see how Trump wins a second term if things play out that way.”

I’m a trial lawyer, a Democratic activist and a sports fan.

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