Finance

Senators introduce bill to change process to levy national security tariffs

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A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation on Wednesday that would overhaul the Section 232 process that President Trump is using to impose steep tariffs on imports from U.S. allies.

Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) teamed up on the measure that would change a 1962 trade law that provides a tool for the president and the Congress to address genuine threats to national security.

{mosads}The proposed legislation would update Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to give the Pentagon a larger investigative role in determining whether imports coming into the United States threaten the nation’s security.

Congress also would play a larger role in those decisions of when to levy tariffs based on national security concerns.

“I have repeatedly expressed concerns about the misuse of the Section 232 statute to impose tariffs on automobiles and auto parts, and its impact on Ohio jobs and the U.S. economy as a whole,” Portman said.

“As a former [U.S. trade representative], I know that misusing our trade tools not only hurts our exports and our manufacturers, but also our consumers, so I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan legislation,” he said.

Under the bill, the Defense Department would lead the investigation while remedies, if any issues are discovered, would be handled by the Commerce Department to ensure the statute is properly applied.

Top allies and close trading partners such as Canada, Mexico and the European Union have argued that their imports of steel and aluminum don’t threaten U.S. national security.

In late May, Trump hit the two countries and the 28-nation bloc with a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum.

That brought a rush of retaliatory tariffs, many hitting iconic American products. 

The Commerce Department is investigating whether tariffs on foreign autos and auto parts is justified, a move already causing anxiety for lawmakers on Capitol Hill as well as businesses connected with the auto industry. 

“We cannot resolve perceived trade imbalances by accusing our allies of being a threat to our national security,” Jones said.

“If a trading partner is suspected of undermining our national security, that claim needs to be thoroughly investigated by those with relevant expertise in the Department of Defense,” he said.

The measure would require more consultations with Congress and allow lawmakers to have broader authority to disapprove of any potential tariffs.

Section 232 contains a disapproval resolution process limited only to the disapproval of actions on oil imports, according to Portman.

The updated disapproval process would only apply to future Section 232 actions.

Another group of senators has introduced legislation that would provide Congress more power over any national security decisions.

On July 11, the Senate took a nonbinding vote in support of legislation by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) that would ensure Congress plays an expanded role in the implementation of national security tariffs.

Flake called the vote a “clear rebuke” of Trump’s trade policies.

“I will continue to push for binding legislation that requires congressional approval of national security-designated tariffs,” he said.

“We have to rein in abuse of presidential authority and restore Congress’ constitutional authority in this regard.”

Tags Bob Corker Donald Trump Jeff Flake Joni Ernst Pat Toomey Rob Portman
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