“We are in uncharted waters as it relates to China.”

LaHood Outlines Mission of China Task Force

WASHINGTON, DC — As Americans grapple with the fallout from COVID-19, some leaders in Congress have begun to look at the actions of China throughout the pandemic and reevaluate its relationship with the United States.

One of those leaders is U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood (IL-18), who addressed a virtual meeting of The Ripon Society on Wednesday and Co-Chairs the bipartisan U.S. China Working Group. Last month, LaHood was tapped by House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy to serve on the China Task Force. Comprised of 15 Republicans with varying backgrounds and legislative specialties, the Task Force aims to evaluate the United States’ competitiveness with China and how to best insulate Americans’ interests from maligned foreign influence.

“I’m honored that I was selected by Leader McCarthy to be a part of the China Task Force,” the Illinois Republican declared. “Obviously the issues with China have taken on a whole other element with COVID-19 as everyone knows. The world and America has been consumed with what happened in Wuhan, what didn’t happen in Wuhan and the lack of transparency there, arguably the deceitfulness that went on, what happened with the World Health Organization and getting proper answers on that.

“The Task Force over the next three months will meet about three or four times a week, and we will come up with a proposal that will lay out where we want to go. That will be due in the middle to end of September and will be our kind of Republican proposal for how we’re going to deal with China.”

One particularly salient topic that the Task Force will examine is the U.S. medical supply chain and how much of it is located within China’s borders.

“Many of us have come to the realization that the United States has relied on China for much of our supply chain as it related to pharmaceuticals, medicines, and generics. This was exposed during the COVID-19 crisis and there’s been a lot of talk about how we bring the supply chain back to the United States. How do we decouple from China and bring that back? That’s a complicated and nuanced process. We’ve been having that conversation and diving in on how we do that. What does that mean obviously for the relationship with China – how does that affect businesses?

“It’s not something that I think you can incentivize through tax credits or tax provisions. It’s going to cost money to bring those companies back and do that. Is the United States or the Congress willing to do that?”

The Task Force is also charged with looking into trade policy. Earlier this year, prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the president announced a “Phase One” agreement with China, laying the groundwork for future negotiations. Now, while the extent of the effects from the pandemic are still being understood, LaHood expresses concern for the resiliency of the agreement.

“Our work on the China Task Force also coincides with the fact that we have a Phase One trade deal with China that went into effect on February 14th. There are obligations and responsibilities related to that trade agreement, particularly that China will buy over $200 billion in products from the United States between now and the end of the year. And for my farmers in Central/West-Central Illinois, that’s about $60 billion in corn, soybeans, ethanol, cotton, sorghum, wheat, and a number of products. And obviously the ag community, which is going through a stressful time right now, is relying on that.

“So how do we keep on track that Phase One trade deal, which the Administration has talked about pulling the plug? I frankly think that’s a mistake at this point, but this new reality with China post-COVID and what’s gone on in Hong Kong complicates things. If you look at the new law that’s been proposed in Hong Kong, it is very anti-democratic, anti-freedom, essentially criminalizing the ability to protest, the ability to criticize China, and really would manifest itself with Hong Kongers being thrown in jail.”

LaHood wrapped up his initial remarks by summing up the U.S.-China relationship, and what this means for the U.S. going forward.

“As always with China, it is a rollercoaster. It is up and it is down and frankly right now it is definitely down. It’s a balanced approach that – from my perspective – I think we have to have, but there are many in Congress that want to go a much more adversarial approach – an antagonistic approach – with almost a Cold War mentality. We are not there yet, but I think we are on the verge, and we are in uncharted waters as it relates to China. And of course, we all know we have an election in the United States in the fall. China obviously doesn’t have elections. They’re a communist, socialist country. They don’t have the same constituency requests and urgencies that we have. And so my sense is they’ll probably wait us out until after the election, see what happens, and respond accordingly.”

Finally, LaHood was asked about the record-sized stimulus bills that passed through Congress and how this affects the United States’ debt and deficit situation.

“We’ve passed four pieces of legislation in response to COVID over the last 10 weeks in the Congress, and I think it’s been the right approach,” LaHood explained. “We did it quickly. There was real concern about the bottom of the economy falling out, falling into a deep recession. There was uncertainty, the markets were affected accordingly. And so what did Congress do? We don’t often get a lot of credit for coming together in a bipartisan way to respond accordingly, but I think it was the right approach. And I think we did it in a way that helped get us through this difficult time. Let’s remember those four pieces of legislation and what we did.”

LaHood elaborated on the stimulus bills’ effects on the economy.

“What did we see happen? We saw a stabilization, we saw the country get through this in eight to ten weeks. We surprised everybody last Friday. It was anticipated we’re going to lose 7 million jobs in May and we added 2.5 million. That’s positive – that’s good news. We are not out of the woods yet, and obviously this was extremely disruptive to our economy. But the fact that we were able to do it in a bipartisan way and to get the country stabilized, I think, was beneficial. Moving forward, I think it gets more difficult.”

“There is a growing concern particularly on the Republican side about spending more money,” LaHood admitted. “All of this money that we have allocated and appropriated of course goes on the proverbial federal credit card. We didn’t have a rainy day fund, so we continued to go into debt. And there are many of us – and me included – that have grave concerns about the debt bomb that we are creating.”

The Ripon Society is a public policy organization that was founded in 1962 and takes its name from the town where the Republican Party was born in 1854 – Ripon, Wisconsin. One of the main goals of The Ripon Society is to promote the ideas and principles that have made America great and contributed to the GOP’s success. These ideas include keeping our nation secure, keeping taxes low and having a federal government that is smaller, smarter and more accountable to the people.