WASHINGTON — Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is not on board with President Donald Trump's announcement that he would use a Depression-era policy to spend $12 billion to help farmers hurt by the ongoing trade war with China.
President Donald Trump has been using tariffs in an escalating dispute with China over U.S. trade deficits, and on Tuesday the White House announced plans to use the Agriculture Department's Commodity Credit Corp. to help farmers hit hard by lost business, particularly soy farmers who have faced falling prices.
But Murkowski said it's a bad plan: too costly, too slow and the wrong approach. But she does believe it's the White House's role to make changes to help struggling American businesses.
One-third of Alaska's seafood goes to China, she said. "So you've got folks who are really worried about the here and now."
There "is real truth in the fact that our farming sector has been directly impacted by these tariffs — and significantly impacted. But it's not just the farming sector. It is the manufacturing sector. It is the energy sector. It is the seafood industry," Murkowski said in an interview in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. She called the $12 billion plan "a very small Band-Aid for a much broader problem."
"The president hasn't said a word about where that $12 billion comes from," she said. And: "That to me is an admission that, look, these tariffs aren't helping you guys."
Murkowski joined numerous Senate Republicans who decried the impact the president's trade war is having on free trade and the nation's export markets.
In recent days, Trump has asked his supporters to be patient while he reworks the nation's trade agenda, one country at a time.
"But there is only so much patience you can have when your livelihood is on the line," Murkowski said.
So what is she going to do about it?
Not much, actually. Murkowski said she believes the solution has to come from the White House. "It's within the executive that they will be able to reverse, to lay down an approach and a directive that can make that difference," she said.
Congress is limited, she said, noting the slow process to pass legislation through both chambers — which must then be signed by the president it would seek to rein in.
"So legislatively, there are tools we have at our disposal, my fear is that those may come too late" for businesses "on the bubble," she said.
Murkowski was skeptical of whether the White House would really be able to "miraculously" obtain and distribute $12 billion for farmers in a timely manner.
"And let's put it into context that Alaskans can relate to: fisheries disaster. We've got a fisheries disaster that was declared last year," she said. The White House made a disaster declaration, Congress appropriated funding, and then the state must "figure out how that is then distributed to the impacted fisheries, whether it goes to the processors, whether it goes to the individual fishermen, to subsistence users, and it's about a two-year process between the time that you've been impacted and the time that there has been any aid that comes to you," she said.
"When you lose your farm, you lose your farm. And there's no amount of sloganeering that is going to make you feel good about that," Murkowski said.