Even before China and the United States raised tariffs in their ongoing trade dispute, U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader says mid-Willamette Valley farmers are among the Oregonians feeling the ripple effects.
Schrader is a six-term Democrat whose 5th District extends from Clackamas County into the valley and central Oregon coast. He says he agrees with President Donald Trump that China is engaging in unfair trade practices — but Trump is making a mistake in going it alone.
"There has to be a smarter way to go about this," Schrader said Thursday, Aug. 22, at a breakfast forum of the Westside Economic Alliance at Embassy Suites in Tigard. "You cannot go to war with China, the European Union, Canada and Mexico all at the same time. You pick your enemies."
Among the victims so far: Willamette Valley hazelnut growers, who opened a new processing plant a year ago.
"Hazelnut growers built this big new plant in Donald, but it's not processing a lot of hazelnuts, because their market is China — and China is not buying hazelnuts from us anymore," Schrader said.
"It's not just soybeans and corn getting hurt, it is our own folks right here in the Willamette Valley… I do have a number of my agricultural friends, however, who still support the president."
He said other business executives have complained to him about the effects of 2018 U.S. tariffs on imported steel and aluminum and other products.
"They are so livid over the destruction of their business, the cost of their steel has gone through the roof, and they are locked into contracts," he said. "It is ugly."
Schrader responded to a question by Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle the day before China announced new tariffs (from 5 to 10%) in stages on $75 billion in U.S. goods and reinstated suspended tariffs of 25% on automobiles and auto parts starting Dec. 15. After U.S. stock markets closed sharply down Friday, Trump then announced higher tariffs (from 10 to 15%) on $300 billion of Chinese goods on Sept. 1, and still more tariffs (from 25 to 30%) on $250 billion in goods Oct. 1.
China was Oregon's largest trading partner with $4.8 billion in exports reported in 2018.
Meanwhile, Schrader said he thinks a revised trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico negotiated under Trump could still win congressional approval if there is a side agreement on labor practices.
Canada ranked second at $3.2 billion in exports, and Mexico 10th at $464 million, among Oregon trade partners in 2018.
Health care focus
Schrader is on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has passed several bills to curb prescription drug prices, bar "surprise" medical bills when a provider is out of network — leaving the patient with partial or no insurance coverage for the added costs — and reauthorize federal aid to community health centers and health care workforce training.
Eight of those bills were approved without dissent on July 25, before the congressional recess, and are headed to votes of the full House.
"Our goal was to show Mitch McConnell there is wide bipartisan support and to empower Senators Wyden and Alexander to use their power to put out similar bills," Schrader said.
His reference was to the Senate majority leader from Kentucky, who has blocked action on any bills that might divide the Republican majority, and to Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee who leads the health committee in the Senate.
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican, have devised legislation that would require drug manufacturers to pay into a fund if they seek to raise prices beyond the rate of inflation. The Senate Finance Committee approved the bill before the recess, but drug manufacturers are lining up against it — and they hope to persuade Trump, who hasn't been specific about his pledge to lower drug prices.
Both Senate and House bills would require manufacturers to justify price increases in filings with the Health and Human Services Department.
One other House bill would bar manufacturers from thwarting efforts by others to move toward cheaper generic drugs. But that is within a bill (HR 987) that passed on a largely party-line vote May 16, because it also makes changes to the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 law Republicans have sought to repeal without success. (A legal challenge is making its way through the federal courts.)
Schrader and three other Oregon Democrats voted for HR 987; Republican Greg Walden voted no.
While that bill is unlikely to advance in the Senate, Schrader hopes the generic-drug provisions are made part of Senate bills that could win bipartisan support.
"We are trying to open up the marketplace and make sure the manufacturers cannot use the rules intended to open it to shut it down," he said.
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