February 18, 2011 3:32PM

Bribes to Brazil to Continue

An amendment to end what Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) rightly called “lunacy” failed this afternoon in a depressing show of cowardice on cotton subsidies. The amendment [Amendment No. 89] would have ended payments to Brazilian [yes, sic] cotton farmers that cost U.S. taxpayers $150 million a year. The House rejected the amendment 183 to 246. 

Republicans — those stalwart fiscal conservatives! — voted 75 in favor and 164 against. The Democrats showed more courage and voted in favor of the amendment 108 to 82. (These numbers are according to C-SPAN; I will post an update if they prove to be incorrect).

The deal on cotton is one of the more shameful aspects of U.S. trade policy. As I blogged last year, U.S. taxpayers are paying millions of dollars to Brazilian farmers in a deal to ward off retaliatory tariffs Brazil has the right to impose on U.S. goods. That right was granted them by the World Trade Organization in the face of the United States’ continued failure to bring its cotton subsidy program into line with its obligations to other WTO members. Rather than cut off the subsidies to the powerful cotton lobby, though, the United States Trade Representative instead opted to do a deal with the Brazilian government. (No bribes for the poor African cotton farmers also harmed by the price‐​suppressing effects of U.S. subsidies, though.)

The Hill article (linked to in the first paragraph of this post) points out that some members (presumably the Republicans who voted against the amendment) were concerned that “the move [to cease the payments to Brazil] could create a trade war if Brazil decided to retaliate.” It doesn’t seem to occur to those concerned members that one way to avoid a trade war would be to abide by international obligations and cease subsidizing U.S. cotton farmers. It would also shave a few million from that huge deficit about which they profess to be concerned.