Trade Cases

Republican Bill Would Curb Trump's Tariff Authority

Written by Sandy Williams

As a trade war continues to build over the Section 232 steel and aluminum measures, some senators are looking to curb the president’s authority to unilaterally impose tariffs.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) is leading the effort along with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) to challenge President Trump’s ability to levy trade restrictions on the grounds of preserving national security. The tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum have resulted in trade retaliation from all corners of the world, including America’s staunchest allies.

“While we all agree on the need to ensure the international trade system is fair for American workers, companies and consumers, unfortunately, the administration is abusing the Section 232 authority delegated to the president by Congress,”  said Corker on Wednesday. “Making claims regarding national security to justify what is inherently an economic question not only harms the very people we all want to help and impairs relations with our allies, but also could invite our competitors to retaliate.”

Corker reminded the president of the need for transparency and consultation with Congress. If the president “truly believes invoking Section 232 is necessary to protect the United States from a genuine threat, he should make the case to Congress and to the American people and do the hard work necessary to secure congressional approval,” said Corker.

The proposed bipartisan bill would amend the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to “require Congressional approval before the president adjusts imports that are determined to threaten to impair national security.” Corker is considering adding the bill to the National Defense Authorization Act as a way to get the bill passed.

The bill has received support from both Republicans and Democrats including Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Mike Lee (R-UT), Ben Sasse (R-NE),  Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Mark Warner (D-VA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

House Speaker Paul Ryan was skeptical that the bill would be passed by the House. “You would have to pass a law that he would want to sign into law,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “That would be what it would take. You can do the math on that.”

The proposed bill is receiving support from the business and agricultural community, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Chemistry Council and National Retail Federation.

“The U.S. business and agriculture community is profoundly concerned about how newly imposed tariffs–and the inevitable foreign retaliation arriving in the next few weeks–will lead to lost American jobs,” said Neil Bradley, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s executive vice president and chief policy officer, in a statement.

“This emerging trade war endangers the remarkable economic progress we’ve seen in the past year. The constitutional authority of the Congress to ‘regulate foreign trade’ and its oversight of tariff policy is unambiguous. This modest proposal to clarify congressional prerogatives is welcome and long overdue,” Bradley added.

The Alliance for American Manufacturing criticized the Corker amendment saying it will “kill American jobs, undermine national security and weaken trade enforcement.”

Said AAM President Scott Paul, “There is a vital role for Congress in trade, but it’s one that has been largely abdicated for years now. Where are the self-initiated trade cases to stop China’s cheating? Where are the real penalties for unfair trade practices? Senator Corker and his colleagues may pretend this is about preserving ties with our allies, but its effect would be to send American workers back to the unemployment line while letting China skate.”

Trump met with a group of Senate Republicans yesterday to persuade them not to back Corker’s bill. According to The Wall Street Journal, pressure by the president may be working, as some senators appear to fear retaliation by Trump.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), a frequent critic of the administration’s  trade policy, said he is afraid to make waves that will impact his ability to pass a farm bill. “I don’t think the president would be very pleased,” said Roberts who chairs the Agriculture Committee.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) called the current trade disputes “horse trading” and said Trump “is too smart to get us into a trade war.” He added, “If there comes a time that I realize it’s not just horse trading and that he is serious about starting a trade war, I reserve the right to reconsider.”

“I hope they can work it out,” said Sen. John Thune (R-SD). “We’re like a lot of our members right now—following the discussion and wanting to hear the administration’s arguments, but I would say there is a big number of our folks who are pretty sympathetic to the view that Congress needs to be engaged in all of these decisions.”

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