In-Depth: Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) introduced this bill to give Congress a more proactive role in implementing tariffs:
“Although the power to impose tariffs is one our Constitution explicitly grants to Congress, modern history is filled with examples of the executive branch imposing tariffs without Congress’s approval...or even a congressional debate. Our Founding Fathers were deliberate in setting up a system of checks and balances, and regardless of your views on the global trading system, the underlying balance of powers should be respected. Given recent events, I think Congress needs to reclaim its seat at the table, and this bill is a simple and effective way to give Congress a more proactive role in trade policy.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) adds:
“Our bipartisan bill gives Congress the authority to weigh in on tariffs before they are implemented. No President should have unlimited powers, especially when those powers are hurting innocent farmers and businesses.”
Adam Wilford, a policy analyst at the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, argues that this legislation is needed to rein in presidential abuses of Section 232:
“Congress should consider whether Section 232 has become too politicized, and revoke these trade powers before more damaging import taxes can be levied…. Section 232 was never intended as a permission slip for presidents to bypass normal procedures for implementing tariffs. It was intended as a means by which presidents could respond quickly to imports which threatened to destabilize the state of our national defenses. If presidents are beginning to use Section 232 more creatively, it is up to Congress to use its legislative and Constitutional power to nip that practice in the bud before it can become more prevalent.”
In March 2018, 107 House Republicans sent a letter to President Trump expressing concern about broad tariffs. They wrote:
“Because tariffs are taxes that make U.S. businesses less competitive and U.S. consumers poorer, any tariffs that are imposed should be designed to address specific distortions caused by unfair trade practices in a targeted way while minimizing negative consequences on American businesses and consumers... We urge you to reconsider the idea of broad tariffs to avoid unintended negative consequences to the U.S. economy and its workers.”
In July 2018, the Senate voted 88-11 in favor of a non-binding procedural measure asserting “a role for Congress” when the president imposes tariffs in the name of national security. This provision, though toothless, is a formal congressional rebuke of the president’s current tariff policies. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) called the measure “a rebuke of the president’s abuse of trade authority,” saying he was “so glad that Congress is finally, finally pushing back on [tariffs. We have neglected our constitutional role.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has instructed staff to try to find consensus among Republican members on a legislative response to the president’s power to impose tariffs for national security reasons. However, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) summarized Congressional Republicans’ inability to curb the president’s tariffs in an event at The Economic Club of Washington where he said, “You would have to pass a law to say don’t raise those tariffs and the president would have to sign that law. That’s not going to happen.”
While they haven’t taken a position on this bill, the National Retail Federation and Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association have endorsed a Senate bill, authored by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) that would amend the Trade Expansion Act of 1962’s Section 232 authority (which is one provision of this bill).
Similarly, while the White House hasn’t commented on this bill, it has actively tried to block a vote on the Corker bill, arguing that it’d hurt President Trump’s ability to negotiate trade deals. President Trump argues that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.” Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, defended the president’s tariffs as a necessary tool to force trade reform:
“Don’t blame Trump. Blame the nations that have broken away from those conditions. I think free world trade is a very good thing indeed. But it is broken, and President Trump is trying to fix it. And that’s the key point.”
Of Note: There’s reason to believe a full overhaul of the president’s tariff imposition authority isn’t needed. In the past, Congress has amended the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to give itself the power to immediately nullify Section 232 actions restricting petroleum imports by a simple resolution. By that logic, simply expanding the scope of products subject to Congressional disapproval resolutions would go a long way toward restoring Congressional accountability to Section 232 actions.
Since taking office, President Trump has implemented several rounds of tariffs and promised to implement more.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / gguy44)