This year has been one for the record book, and it’s not over yet. We were riding a wave of success when it started with the lowest unemployment in years – rising wages and the ag industry had an exciting trade deal with China. Then along came the Coronavirus – killing millions of people all around the world. No one can be certain of safety. In the spring when the virus hit and devastated New York and California, rural America hoped it might miss us. No way – it went to Texas and Florida and now the Midwest is the latest hot spot. The Dakotas, Iowa, Wisconsin and spreading fast. There is no escape.
Now – President Trump has the virus. We are happy he seems to be recovering quickly. We pray for all individuals and families that have had to deal with this. It has been a major disruption of global trade. Jobs have been lost. Many of the world’s countries that used to be big customers of ours just don’t have the money to buy our export goods. Our U.S. trade deficit hit a record high in August - $67 billion including services. The deficit in goods – almost $84 billion. China seems to be recovering faster than a lot of other countries. The Washington Post writes: “Economies in Europe, Japan, Brazil and India all are projected to suffer deeper recessions this year than the U.S. U.S. output is expected to drop 4% while Europe will experience a 7% decline.” If we are going to recover from the virus recession, we will have to do it without much help from overseas.
Here is another challenge that we face here in the U.S. Wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington. Fires have burned more than 4 million acres. We may have a shortage of California wine now. Everyone is looking for who to blame. Fires in the West are not new. But they are worse this year. It is warm. Can we blame climate change? But we are not going to fix climate change overnight. We could, however, do a much better job of managing our forests. All the dead trees, wood, and leaves are just waiting for the first spark. Stop worrying about the spotted owl. Clean up our forests. If we don’t, the owl will burn with everything else.
This is Randy Russell sitting in for my good friend Jack Block. And now today’s commentary.
Just one week ago there were elections in Virginia and New Jersey that sent a clear message—Americans don’t want to be governed by the political left. Glenn Youngkin, a businessman and political novice, beat former Virginia Governor and Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe by two percentage points. Just 12 months ago Joe Biden carried Virginia by over 10 points. Interestingly, one year ago Glenn Youngkin’s name recognition stood at less than 2%. Republicans also elected Winsome Sears as Lt. Governor and Jason Miyares as Attorney General, the first African American and Latino, respectively, to serve in these positions in Virginia history. And Republicans gained control of the House of Delegates.
What happened in Virginia? Youngkin ran a state-based election focusing on education, school curriculums, and holding local school boards accountable. Meanwhile, McAuliffe tried to nationalize the campaign linking Youngkin to Donald Trump every opportunity he could. In the end, McAuliffe’s strategy failed. Youngkin won Virginia’s rural counties with 80% of the vote, won the Hispanic vote by 9 points, and made substantial inroads with suburban women who strongly favored his focus on education and local school curriculums.
Meanwhile, New Jersey, a state Joe Biden won by 16 points, saw incumbent Governor Phil Murphy eke out a slim victory over a political novice. And in a stunning upset, truck driver Ed Durr, who spent just $2,000 on his campaign, beat Steve Sweeney, the President of the New Jersey State Senate. And finally in Minneapolis, voters rejected by 12 points a ballot initiative that would abolish the Police Department and establish a Department of Public Safety.
So…. what is the key takeaway from last week’s election? Governing from the left is not what most Americans want nor expect from the Government. Most importantly, government overreach—including excessive spending and continued mandates—aren’t what people voted for in the 2020 elections. And in an ominous sign for Congressional Democrats, Dave Wasserman, a highly respected political observer is now predicting that the Republicans will pick up 40 seats in the House and take back control of the Senate in 2022.
Beyond the elections, the U.S. House of Representatives, after months of infighting, completed action on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill which will fund roads, bridges, ports and rural broadband. Far less certain is the fate of the so-called human infrastructure package which would greatly expand health and education programs and new climate-related initiatives. Continued debate between progressives and moderates in the House and Senate, such as Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have left the fate of this nearly $2 trillion package in doubt.
Finally, a very special thanks to all those who have served in the military. It is because of their efforts and sacrifices that each of us are blessed to live in this Great Nation. As we celebrate Veterans Day, God bless every one of our veterans! May we never ever take for granted the freedoms they fought and sacrificed for. This is Randy Russell reporting from Washington.
Senator Bernie Sanders and his Socialist-leaning Members of Congress continue to press to spend more money on social programs. I remember when President Reagan came to town, he stood up for smaller government, less regulations, less spending. A new Gallup poll today says that support for bigger government is headed down. Only 43% want more government. We don’t need a dramatic expansion of the welfare state.
Turn to trade which is so important for our country. Our U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai has a big challenge in dealing with China. The Biden Administration is not ready to just lift tariffs on China imposed by President Trump. It is a real trade war. China has tariffs of 58.3% on imports from U.S. We have a 66.4% tariff on China’s goods coming into the U.S.
Representative Tai says “decoupling relations with China is not a realistic outcome in terms of our global economy. Washington needs a co-existence with Beijing.” I agree. China has the biggest population and just behind the U.S. has the number two economy in the world. We need to live together and avoid conflict. We don’t want trade conflict and we certainly don’t want military conflict.
The Phase One trade deal that President Trump negotiated with China is worth keeping even though China is coming up short on purchases from the U.S. Representative Tai said “We need to communicate directly with China. Our objective is not to inflame trade tensions with China.” Also, it isn’t a good idea to rely too much on any one country when it comes to trade. We do need to diversify. However, as long as China is buying, we are selling. Since China has made progress in controlling African Swine Fever, they have rebuilt their swine herds and that pork export market is on the decline. But the Chinese beef market is booming. Our beef exports to China are up 21% compared to last year. U.S. total ag exports will exceed our ag imports this year which is a reversal of the last two years. I don’t have the time to cover the threat of inflation, but maybe next week. Gasoline, rent, food, labor everything is up – 5.4% and rising.
Joe Biden has been President for a month and now Tom Vilsack has just been approved as our new Secretary of Agriculture. I am happy to see Tom Vilsack stepping back into the job that he held for 8 years under President Obama. At least, he already understands the responsibilities that an Ag Secretary must face.
At the top of his list will be the Coronavirus fallout and the $1.9 trillion relief bill. Agriculture will have interest in the bill. It provides $23 billion in new money for agriculture and nutrition. More family food boxes will be on the way. More foreign workers for the ag industry will receive legal status. Consolidation in the ag industry is a big concern. Look for more antitrust enforcement.
Many of President Biden’s priorities that impact agriculture could be helpful. I am very pleased to see EPA moving to support ethanol by limiting the small refinery waivers. However, I am afraid the huge virus relief spending bill will deliver costly inflation. The bill also appears to be just handing money out to everyone. $1.9 trillion is not small change, and from what I read only 10% of the money goes for pandemic relief. The rest is just a handout to buy support and votes. Here are some examples where the money goes.
1. $300 million to the Endowment for the Arts
2. $300 million to Endowment for the Humanities
3. $300 million to migrant and refugee assistance
4. $10,000 per student for loan bailout
5. $300 million to public broadcasting
6. $500 million to museums and libraries.
7. $35 million to the JFK Center for Performing Arts
8. $300 million for international disaster assistance
The list goes on and on. Our debt level has exploded since the pandemic and we need to have some spending discipline. I admit that there are those that can use the money, but do our taxpayers have to satisfy everyone’s wish list? There are countries that are deep in debt that are starting to impose a wealth tax. Argentina and other South American countries are taking the lead. Is this what the U.S. will need to do?
President Biden has pledged to bring about bipartisanship to bring the country back together. The way the bill is written now it will not get any Republican votes. Even President Obama’s former Secretary of the Treasury Larry Sommers thinks the bill is too expensive.
After the election we all read about President Trump challenging the results. However, we also are reading about President-Elect Biden’s possible nominees for his cabinet. We know they are all important, but for agriculture and rural America, the choice for Secretary of Agriculture has been at the top of the list. In one of my commentaries, I suggested Collin Peterson would be an outstanding pick. I said we needed someone who knows rural America and the farmers and ranchers. Thank you to Joe Biden for turning to Tom Vilsack and asking him to come back to USDA and take charge. He served as Ag Secretary for President Obama for 8 years. He knows where the office is and where to hang his coat. Marshall Matz, a partner in the OFW Law Firm chaired the Obama rural campaign in 2008.
Here is what he said, “Tom Vilsack’s commitment to rural America is as strong as the President Elect’s commitment to fight for the soul of America. A long list of farm, food, and rural leaders across the nation have stood up in support of Tom Vilsack’s second tour.”
I want to be sure to thank Sonny Perdue for the outstanding job he has done as Secretary of Agriculture. The minute he was confirmed he hit the road speaking and meeting with farm leaders all across the nation. In these tough times with trade wars and the coronavirus pandemic, he has helped to find financial support for our farmers and feed the poor. We say, Thank you Mr. Secretary, for your service.
Thinking about feeding people. Here is what the World Food Programme Chief had to report. “For millions and millions of people on earth, famine is at humanity’s doorstep.” 100 million received food from the World Food Program this last year. We averted famine after doing so much over recent years to eliminate extreme poverty in nations around the world. Today 270 million are on the brink of starvation.
Finally, in closing I ask the question – will the politicians at long last pass an annual budget and a coronavirus relief package? Or will they shut down the government? We should know this week.