Congress should stop tariff power grab, bring balance to US trade policy

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As the trade talks with China continue, administration officials are reportedly pursuing legislation that would expand the president’s authority to impose tariffs. The U.S. Reciprocal Trade Act would empower the president to raise tariffs on individual products if he determines that any of our trading partners have imposed higher tariffs than we have imposed on their products.

While Congress has delegated trade authority to the president before, often for legitimate reasons, we are now seeing an administration stretching the limits of that power on specious grounds. This proposal would allow the president to stretch those limits even further with even fewer checks and balances.

{mosads}Although the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the “Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises” and the right “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations,” Congress has delegated much of that power to the president – from negotiating free trade agreements to unilaterally imposing tariffs – over the past century.

While this delegation has paved the way for implementing many beneficial free trade agreements, the current administration has strained credulity by invoking national security to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, and possibly even automobiles and parts.

The result is a policy that is taxing billions of dollars’ worth of imported goods without an adequate check and balance by the Congress. These tariffs hurt the American people, raising costs on basic goods, squeezing small businesses, and provoking retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports. 

Tariffs also give government officials the power to pick winners and losers. Since trade laws allow for affected companies to file for exemptions, they effectively double down on a “Washington knows best” approach; unelected bureaucrats are empowered to choose who gets to avoid the tariffs.

This proposal would delegate even more authority to the president to impose tariffs without building in any of the necessary checks and balances.

It is time for Congress to strike a more reasonable balance with the president on imposing trade barriers such as tariffs – one that better serves the American people and is more in line with its constitutional responsibilities. 

Fortunately, there appears to be opposition to the proposal on both sides of the aisle. U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said plainly, “We ain’t gonna give him any greater authority.” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) posted on Twitter that “Congress should be reasserting its constitutional responsibility on trade, not yielding even more power to the executive branch.” Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) also tweeted about the proposal, asking “in what world would this be a good idea?”

These are welcome signs of bipartisan opposition.

Congress was right to pass Trade Promotion Authority, which delegated some authority to the president to expedite negotiation of trade deals and lower barriers. But this proposal – which would grant the president the ability to unilaterally regulate international trade and impose taxes on the American people – simply goes too far.

We call on our lawmakers to ensure that that doesn’t happen.

Alison Acosta Winters is a senior policy fellow at Americans for Prosperity.

Tags Chuck Grassley Pat Toomey Ron Kind
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