PALMYRA, Mo. -- U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill fears the tariffs that are sparking a trade war with China and other U.S. trading partners could hurt farmers for years to come.
McCaskill found several farmers who felt the same way during a visit to the Lowell Schachtsiek farm near Palmyra on Monday. She said between one-quarter and one-third of all soybeans from Missouri have been sold to China in recent years.
Tariffs announced earlier this year by President Donald Trump have been answered by China with tariffs against U.S. products including soybeans, pork and other items.
"Let's assume we work out a deal in six months. By then China's got somebody else supplying their soybeans. They're already buying from Brazil, and China is paying their own farmers to plant soybeans," McCaskill said.
The two-term senator from Missouri agrees that the United States needs to go after China and other cheaters on international trade. But she said the tariff war that has brought the price of beans down was more like "a 2-by-4 when we needed a scalpel."
One farmer said $8 soybeans represent a loss for some producers, depending on their input costs.
Another farmer said Smithfield Foods, which is owned by China, operates many of the large pork farms in Monroe County and will be paying the big tariffs charged by the Chinese.
A $12 billion subsidy for farmers has been announced by the White House to help ease the pain caused by the trade war. McCaskill said that will put the administration in the position of "picking winners and losers."
Joe Maxwell, a farmer from Mexico and former lieutenant governor in Missouri, urged McCaskill to look for ways to boost farm profitability. Maxwell said consolidation of markets and the trade war leave farmers with few good options.
Maxwell said next year farmers will have to decide what to plant based on the farm programs, rather than commodity markets.
During a question-answer session in Schachtsiek's shop, McCaskill fielded some questions about why the U.S. doesn't expand Medicare to citizens of all ages.
"When I ask how many people get health insurance through an employer, about two-thirds of the (audience members) raise their hands. Then when I ask whether they would like to trade that health insurance in for a policy where the government decides, well, guess what? They don't want to lose their coverage through the employer," McCaskill said.
She does, however, believe that Medicare should be offered to every American who reaches the age of 55, rather than the current enrollment age of 65.
McCaskill also wants to see the federal government negotiate medicine costs.
At this time Medicare and similar programs account for 40 percent of medicine purchases in the nation. Most large groups are able to negotiate lower prices, but federal law doesn't allow the government programs to do the same.