The U.S. constitution gives Congress the authority to enact and control tariffs (taxes on American consumers of imported goods and services). Over the years Congress has increasingly delegated that authority to the executive branch (the President) under certain specified circumstances. Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 gives the President the authority to restrict (impose tariffs on) imports that threaten national security without the need for congressional approval.
Last year President Trump imposed a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum on the grounds, confirmed upon the President’s prompting by the Commerce Department, that relying on steel from Canada and the EU (fellow NATO members) was a threat to our national security. If this were a skit on “Saturday Night Live” we would have a good laugh, but unfortunately it is for real. It is the launching of a very ill-advised trade war by a President who had promised when campaigning for office to reign in executive overreach. Sen. Ben Sasse, Republican from Nebraska, called Trump’s decision “dumb.”
Trump’s stated motive was to restore American jobs to an industry in which we are relatively inefficient. The few additional workers in steel and aluminum resulting from these tariffs were outweighed by the loss of jobs in industries dependent on these now more expensive metals as inputs. Bestowing financial favors on a selected group to the detriment of the rest of us can rightly be called corruption. https://wcoats.blog/2018/09/28/trade-protection-and-corruption/ Such policies do not reflect America First. They reflect My Friends First.
Trump has apparently asked the Commerce Department to “evaluate” whether importing cars is a national security threat that would allow him to impose tariffs on them without Congressional consent. So much for rolling back executive overreach and any consideration of the national interest.
Both Republicans and Democrats may have had enough of this. “While the Trump Administration ponders whether to claim that imported Volkswagens threaten national security, some on Capitol Hill are trying again to rein in the President’s tariff powers.” WSJ: “Two-bills-to-defend-free-trade”
Two bills have been introduced in the House that would shift the responsibility of determining if an import is a national security risk from the Commerce Department, which naturally leans toward protecting American commerce, to the Defense Department, which should better understand real security risks. “The stronger bill was introduced last week by Senator Pat Toomey, the Pennsylvania Republican…. Mr. Toomey’s bill would require Congress’s blessing. Once a tariff is proposed, lawmakers have 60 days to pass a privileged resolution—no Senate filibuster to block consideration—authorizing it. No approval, no tariff.” WSJ 2/9/2019 A somewhat weaker bill has been introduced by Senator Rob Portman, Republican from Ohio, on the grounds that it has a better chance of passing over a Presidential veto.
Please write your congressional representatives to support one of these bills (preferably the Toomey bill) before this President fights another war that we all lose.