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Capitol Recap: Trade war subsidies help Georgia farmers more than most

The trade war with China could turn into a regional dispute within the U.S., and Georgia would be right in the middle of it.

U.S. Senate Democrats have released a report that shows that subsidies the Trump administration has paid to farmers to help them weather losses from the trade fight have been more generous, on a per-acre basis, to growers in the South.

At the top of the list is Georgia, at $52.35 per acre.

That caught the attention of the Senate Democrats.

“Farmers in Georgia have already received over $50 per acre in the first round of 2019 payments, while farmers in 34 other states received $25 or less, including 14 states that received $10 or less,” their report states.

Other Southern states have also been big beneficiaries of the federal subsidies, which are issued through what’s called the Market Facilitation Program.

Coming in right behind Georgia in the per-acre payments are Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas.

On a more granular level, The Kansas City Star reported that of the 2,901 counties that received subsidies, only 193 saw payments average $100 per acre. All but 10 of them are located in Southern states.

A look at the county level highlights some head-scratching disparities. For example, in Georgia’s Baldwin County, farmers received an average of $15 per acre. Next door in Hancock County, the rate was 10 times higher at $150 per acre.

But that’s on a per-acre basis.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated $16 billion for the program this year after paying out $12 billion last year.

This year’s expenses, so far, total $6.8 billion. Overall, they have tilted to the Midwest.

The most money — more than 60% of the total funds — has gone to Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas and Kansas.

The Midwest got more overall, the American Farm Bureau Federation said in its own analysis, “because most of the acres planted in crops that are eligible for MFP payments are planted in the Midwest.”

While the Senate Democrats’ report made an issue out of where the money went, who got it could be their bigger concern.

The report, The Associated Press said, pointed out that the USDA aimed more of the subsidies at large and wealthy farming operations, not “vulnerable small, medium and beginning farmers.”

The agency responded that region and farm size were not the criteria that guided where the money went. It was all about trade damage.

“While we appreciate feedback on this program, the fact of the matter is that USDA has provided necessary funding to help farmers who have been impacted by unjustified retaliatory tariffs,” the agency said in statement. “While criticism is easy to come up with, we welcome constructive feedback from any member of Congress with recommendations as to how the program could be better administered.”

The top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, faulted the subsidy program, according to the AP, for not offering a plan to restore or find new markets to replace what farmers have lost in the trade war.

In a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a former governor of Georgia, she wrote, “This Administration’s chaotic trade agenda has irreparably harmed farmers, on top of the market instability and extreme weather challenges they already face.”

The Washington Post recently reported that Perdue has said he is “hopeful” a pending trade deal with China would “supplant any type of farm aid needed in 2020.”

But, with campaign season already in gear, the Post reported that analysts have suggested “a third round of aid could be crucial to shoring up (President Donald) Trump’s support in Rural America as the election looms.”

Unhealthy for candidates? When Democrats come to Atlanta for Wednesday’s presidential candidates debate, a lot of talk will likely focus on the subject of Medicare for All.

That might not be a good idea, said Alan Abramowitz of Emory University.

In an article for Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Abramowitz produced statistics that health care proposals in the vein of Medicare for All were a loser for the party’s U.S. House candidates in 2018.

Abramowitz said the negative impact was “close to five points of margin after controlling for a variety of other factors,” enough to determine some House races.

Like any good academic, Abramowitz offered a caveat.

“It is possible that the estimated effect of Medicare for All was a byproduct of other differences between supporters and non-supporters,” he wrote. “For example, supporters might have taken more liberal positions on a variety of other issues as well as Medicare for All. Even if that is the case, however, these findings are not encouraging to supporters of Medicare for All.”

He cautioned that candidates who go too far to the left “could get punished at the polls.”

“Democratic presidential candidates would do well to take heed of these results,” Abramowitz wrote, “particularly as the eventual nominee determines what he or she wishes to emphasize in the general election.”

A new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll backs up Abramowitz, with 53% of registered voters opposing Medicare for All and only 40% supporting it.

Getting hot over climate change: Republicans are trying to score points in U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s re-election campaign by highlighting a video of Teresa Tomlinson speaking recently in Decatur in support of the Green New Deal, the sweeping proposal Democratic U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has promoted to battle climate change.

Tomlinson, a former mayor of Columbus and one of four Democrats vying for Perdue’s seat, told the group that climate change is a “crisis” that’s already hitting U.S. taxpayers in the wallet.

“So people can stop complaining about what they think the, quote, ‘Green New Deal’ or any other bold idea might cost us because we’re already paying for the effect, so we might as well be paying to limit and stop the climate change and not just pick up the pieces after the disaster,” she said.

A pro-Perdue group called the Georgia Action Fund responded to Tomlinson’s talk by pointing to the estimated cost of Democratic U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ version of the Green New Deal: $16 trillion.

John Burke, the group’s director, called the proposal a “socialist scheme that would destroy our economy.”

Tomlinson didn’t try to backtrack. In fact, she called her statement part of her regular message. Her campaign pointed to her policy paper supporting new tax credits for electric vehicles and “grants, partnerships, incentives and targeted carbon cost assessments” to offset the public cost of climate change.

It might be a winning argument.

In the AJC poll, about 63% of Georgia voters said more needs to be done to fight climate change.

A warning to steer clear: State Public Service Commission Vice Chairman Tim Echols says Georgia has shown the nation what not to do when it comes to electric cars.

In an op-ed piece for Public Utilities Fortnightly, Echols wrote:

“A battle is currently brewing between members of Congress to either terminate or expand the current $7,500 electric vehicle tax credit. They should learn from Georgia which in 2015 repealed the state’s robust electric car tax credit, and penalized electric car buyers with a fee. The move led to a nearly ninety percent drop in new electric car registrations and cost Georgia income, jobs and cleaner air.”

Chamber support: The Georgia Chamber, which has criticized the state in the past for its refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, likes what it sees in Gov. Brian Kemp’s dual waiver proposals.

Kemp’s plans would, among other things, provide for a limited expansion of Georgia’s Medicaid rolls.

“Helping Georgians should be an incremental nonpartisan pursuit focused on innovation, compromise and financial soundness,” the group said. “Our organization views these proposals as a promising step in addressing the health care needs of our state, especially in rural areas and for small business.”

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

Tomlinson reports that state Sen. Lester Jackson of Savannah has endorsed her U.S. Senate campaign.

State Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, has halted his campaign in the 6th Congressional District.

Soo Hong, a South Korean immigrant, businesswoman and attorney is running as a Republican against state Rep. Gregg Kennard, D-Lawrenceville.

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