Tester: Tariffs likely to hurt ag producers
Last updated 7/25/2018 at 11:48am
Sen. Jon Tester voiced his concerns Tuesday about Montana agricultural producers' future with the impacts of President Donald Trump's tariffs.
During a telephone press conference from Washington, Tester said the tariffs situation could have negative effects on Montana's producers and agriculture. He added that agriculture is the state's top industry and is the economic drive for every community that is represented through the state.
"Unfortunately," he said, "Montana producers, as we prepare for harvest, there is even lesser certainty than normal."
Tester, who is facing Republican Montana Auditor Matt Rosendale in November's election, said he believes that because of the tariffs, farmers and ranchers are being caught in the middle of a potential trade war that "we certainly didn't ask for" and which could possibly eliminate access to international markets, resulting in lower commodity prices and ultimately putting financial strain on agricultural families.
The retaliatory tariffs put on products by other countries against farmers and ranchers, if continued, will eventually hurt the state's top industry, Tester said. He added that this industry stretches across the economy of Montana from local grocery stores to restaurants and businesses.
He said in the coming months he is sure that the tariffs will have a negative effect on crop sales, adding that Montanans have already felt some of the effects of this tariffs in the industry.
"Montanans were expecting to export more than $200 million worth of beef to China over the next three years, but as of July 6 of this year, they slapped a 25 percent tariff on American beef," Tester said.
Tester said this put a market of more than a billion people out of reach of Montana ranchers, and if prices continue to drop family farms and ranches will have to start making some difficult decisions.
He added that these families have worked for years, even generations, to build these international markets, putting in years of hard work, faith, negotiations and trust, and if these markets are lost they will have to be rebuilt from the ground up.
Tester said other countries markets such as Argentina and Russia are already looking into these markets "like sharks" and leaving the U.S. out.
He added that the nation needs to find a solution and quickly, adding that he has worked with both Republicans and Democrats on a bill which provides Congress with more of a roll in imposing tariffs, but it lacks the teeth to fix the pain that the state will most likely feel this summer.
He added that the Farm Bill is in deliberation, with a committee trying to resolve differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill, and the nation needs to invest in rural America through the bill.
Tester said one of the important bills that was introduced this week is to reverse the decision of hiding certain political donations from the public which was made by the Treasury Department last month.
The Treasury Department passed a decision that political nonprofits will not need to disclose their donors if the donation is more than $5,000, Tester said, adding that he had tried to question one of the executive branch nominees who helps oversee the department and was unable to get answers.
The bill that was introduced this week, Tester said, will assure more transparency with the public although it is not a perfect bill.
"I'm saying enough is enough and this bill will bring more transparency and accountability to political campaigns," he said. "Will it solve all the disastrous effects of Citizens United? No, but more transparency is a good thing."
Tester also expressed confidence in the new secretary of the Veterans Administration, whom Tester voted to confirm.
"I strongly support the nomination of Robert Wilkie to lead the VA," Tester said.
He added that Wilkie has a big job in front of him. Wilkie will be responsible for implementing the VA Mission Act, a bipartisan bill that Tester wrote with Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., the chair of the VA Committee on which Tester is the ranking Democrat. The bill was signed into law by Trump.
The act eliminates the Chance Program and replaces it with the Community Care Initiative, Tester said, adding that it will make it easier for veterans to access care at local hospitals and clinics.
Tester added that Wilkie has one year to get this initiative ready.
"I'm confident we have given Mr. Wilkie and the VA the tools they need to reduce wait times for veterans, hire more staff and improve the quality of care at the VA," Tester said.
Tester also discussed the Stop Taxing Our Potential Act, a bill he wrote to reverse the Supreme Court's decision to force local businesses to collect sales tax on behalf of other states when that state's residents purchase Montana goods online.
The STOP Act is in the Senate Finance Committee, Tester said, and after that it's on to the Senate floor.
He said he is confident it will pass through the Senate Finance Committee adding that Ranking Member Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., agrees with Tester on this act.
Tester said the Supreme Court's decision hurts Montana businesses and will inevitably lead to many small businesses having to close.
"It was a very, very bad decision by the Supreme Court and it's a pattern here. We saw it with Citizens United. It's one of the reasons I voted against (Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch)."
Tester added that he will be voting against Trump's nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Kathy Kraninger.
"It's not that she's a bad person, it's just that she wouldn't answer any of my questions and when you don't answer the questions, you don't get my support," Tester said.
Tester said that during the Senate Banking Committee hearing last week, Kraninger refused to answer his questions. He added that if candidates answer his questions and he doesn't like the answer that is fine with him, he will just watch them. If they answer his questions and he likes the answers he will hold the candidate accountable. If a candidate refuses to answer any questions, the decision of support is clear and easy.
"She didn't take a position on dark money, she didn't take a position on anything, quite frankly," he added.