Free Trade

Is Congress Finally Getting Serious About Stopping Trump's Tariffs?

A bipartisan, bicameral proposal would stop Trump from using the tired "national security" excuse to justify his protectionist trade policies.


Spaces Images Blend Images/Newscom

One of the most infuriating aspects of President Donald Trump's trade war is the ease with which he started it.

There were no congressional hearings, no votes, and no meaningful oversight before the Trump administration imposed a 10 percent aluminum tariff and a 25 percent steel tariff on June 1, 2018. Those tariffs are now costing American businesses more than $500 million each month, according to one assessment, and the Congressional Budget Office reported this week that the tariffs are a measurable drag on economic growth. The cost of the tariffs has been passed along steel and aluminum supply chains, forcing businesses to charge higher prices, lower revenue goals, and layoff workers—all without doing much of anything to boost steel and aluminum manufacturing. America metal companies have seen stocks slide and hiring remains generally flat.

All that might—might—be enough to finally get Congress involved.

Sens. Pat Toomey (R–Pa.) and Mark Warner (D–Va.) announced Wednesday the introduction of the Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act, which would limit presidential authority to impose tariffs without congressional approval. It would also force the Trump administration to bring its steel and aluminum tariffs before Congress for retroactive approval, months after they were imposed. A similar bill will be introduced in the House by Reps. Mike Gallagher (R–Ind.) and Ron Kind (D–Wis.).

"The imposition of these taxes, under the false pretense of national security, is weakening our economy, threatening American jobs, and eroding our credibility with other nations," Toomey said in a statement. "Over recent decades, Congress has ceded its constitutional responsibility to establish tariffs to the executive branch. This measure reasserts Congress's responsibility in determining whether or not to impose national security based tariffs."

The bill takes aim at the underlying law that allowed Trump to unilaterally impose those steel and aluminum tariffs in the first place: the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. Section 232 of that law allows the president to impose tariffs for national security purposes without congressional approval. It may have seemed like a good idea at the time—in part because members of Congress have historically been more protectionist than residents of the White House—but Section 232 leaves the question of what counts as "national security" up to the president and his cabinent.

That loophole is so large that it's not even really accurate to describe it as a loophole. As Trump has demonstrated, the current language of Section 232 effectively gives the chief executive carte blanche to impose tariffs for purely political reasons. Sure, the Commerce Department had to cook up a report explaining why imported steel and aluminum were a national security threat. America needs sufficient steel- and aluminum-producing capability to manufacture weapons in the event of a major war, is one argument. But even the Pentagon has disputed part of that reasoning, and, anyway, if a war cuts off American imports of steel and aluminum from allies like Canada, we've got bigger problems than a lack of steel.

The bipartisan, bicameral proposal announced Wednesday would require Trump (and any future president) to submit potential Section 232 tariffs to Congress for approval, with the promise that Congress would review and vote on the tariff proposal within 60 days. It would also redefine the national security designation to include a narrower set of goods, including military equipment, energy supplies, and critical infrastructure. Finally, it would shift control over Section 232 designations from the Commerce Department to the Pentagon.

"These commonsense reforms would reduce the misuse of alleged national security threats for costly, protectionist ends," wrote a coalition of 38 trade and industry groups supporting the bill, led by free market organizations including the National Taxpayers Union and Americans for Prosperity, in a letter to members of Congress. The reforms included in the Toomey-Warner bill will "more appropriately balance power between the legislative and executive branches," the groups wrote.

While the bill would apply some retroactive oversight to Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs, it would also represent a significant defense against Trump's threats to use Section 232 to apply tariffs on imported cars and car parts. There's no realistic way to argue that imported cars are a threat to America's national security, but the White House instructed the Commerce Department last year to take the first step towards imposing those tariffs.

Due to the global nature of automotive supply chains, tariffs on imported cars and car parts would increase automobile prices by thousands of dollars—even for cars that are largely assembled in the United States. A study conducted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) found that a 25 percent tariff on automobiles would cause production in those industries to fall by about 1.5 percent and would force the industry to shed around 1.9 percent of its American workforce, nearly 200,000 jobs.

This isn't the first congressional effort at signaling disagreement with the White House's aggressive use of Section 232, but it seems like the most well organized and serious attempt to date. Last year, Toomey and then-Sens. Bob Corker (R–Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (R–Ariz.) sponsored a nonbinding resolution aimed at limiting the president's ability to abuse the Section 232 tariff authority. Although 88 senators backed that resolution, an actual Section 232 reform bill never made it to the Senate floor.

Separately, a federal lawsuit launched by a trade association representing steel importers is seeking to overturn Trump's steel tariffs on the grounds that Section 232 is unconstitutional because the law lacks any "intelligible principle" limiting the president's authority to impose tariffs on supposedly "national security" grounds.

That lawsuit may be the best chance to kill the tariffs, as the congressional effort likely faces an arduous path. There is little reason to believe Trump would sign a bill limiting his ability to carry out one of his signature policies. That means the bill realistically needs two-thirds support in both chambers to override a potential veto.

"We need to be tough on China's unfair and illegal trade practices. But we need to work with our allies to do it," Warner said in a statement. "President Trump has strained our relationships with key allies and partners by abusing the authority that Congress granted him and stretching the concept of 'national security' beyond credulity."

NEXT: This 2008 Video Game Is an Oddly Prescient Cautionary Tale About Venezuelan Intervention

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  1. I’d prefer if Section 232 were just repealed, but in the absence of that, this reform seems like a reasonable approach.

  2. Poor Boehm.

    Too lazy to give us all the information to let us decide.

    US Trade Agenda for 2019 Is Packed

    The US-China Trade War: A Timeline

    You can release you intern troll socks now.

    1. Poor troll. Can’t understand why people don’t like having their money stolen to prevent them from minding their own business.

      Fuck off, slaver.

      1. Two trolls this quick.

        I HAVE made a splash over at troll HQ.

    2. Nice links. One is broken and one is just the presidents trade calendar – I guess that proves something like Kavanaugh’s calendar proved something; I’m just not sure what it proved.

      1. Industry Week link.

        Troll cannot operate links. Operator error for coder. [*Adds trouble ticket for repair]

        1. I suppose we should bow and scrape for even this little bit.

          loveconstitution1789|12.3.18 @ 10:20AM|#

          Do you need me to link the rules of NAFTA and USCMA so you can compare and contrast the “worseness” for us?

          Fuck off, slaver.

          1. Fuck off you idiot. Sorry but the country doesn’t owe you going down the tubes so that you can have access to cheap shit. Your ability to access cheap shit is nice but it is not something you can expect everyone else to suffer for. Suffer for your principles instead of expecting everyone else to for once in your life.

            1. What moral authority do you have to steal my money to prevent me from minding my own business?

              What moral authority do you have to mind my business?

              You have none.

              Fuck off, slaver.

              1. You act like you’re the only person in the world and like there aren’t a plethora of other restrictions and factors that affect *your* money.
                Be against tariffs all you want, but the reasoning and tactics of the objection you keep making above is both immature and fanatical.
                I’m not sure what point you think you’re making.

            2. John|1.30.19 @ 5:12PM|#
              “…Sorry but the country doesn’t owe you going down the tubes so that you can have access to cheap shit.”
              “The country”, John? Fuck off slaver.

              “Your ability to access cheap shit is nice but it is not something you can expect everyone else to suffer for.”
              So you propose to provide support for who, exactly, John? I have a feeling even your sophistry is not likely to give a decent answer.

              “Suffer for your principles instead of expecting everyone else to for once in your life.’
              Fucking imbecility.
              Fuck off, slaver.

        2. You need to take Links 404. But do try Econ 101 first.

          1. Poor alphabet troll. Always so sad that he cannot get job at other propaganda outlet and is forced to troll to get article web traffic up.

            1. loveconstitution1789|1.30.19 @ 6:08PM|#
              “Poor alphabet troll. Always so sad that he cannot get job at other propaganda outlet and is forced to troll to get article web traffic up.”

              Did you have a point other than you couldn’t quite understand the argument.
              You are a pathetic piece of shit.

  3. A quibble:

    ” if a war cuts off American imports of steel and aluminum from allies like Canada, we’ve got bigger problems than a lack of steel.”

    That’s not so far-fetched as you seem to think. Let’s say the US decided that it was in our interest to go to war somewhere. Someplace important to us, but someplace that Canada is going to disagree with. Not to the point of going to war, but to the point of cutting off “support” for that war.

    So a US president sends troops to Israel or Georgia or Argentina for whatever reason. And Canada voices their opposition by cutting off all exports of “arms related” stuff – including aluminium alloys and steel.

    Having native resources and supply chains is a national security concern for every nation. Why do you think Japan is so protective of their farmers?

    1. Anyone can come up with some far out scenario. For instance, to avoid getting hit by a meteorite, you might want to consider wearing a 50 pound titanium or kevlar wide-brimmed hat when you step outside.

      Try coming up with a reasonable one. If a war we started were so outrageous that Canada cut off trade with us, we’d have even worse problems than just foreign steel.

      1. A country being unable to defend itself without imports is not some “far out scenario”. It is something that has happened any number of times in history. The only difference is that every other time it has been countries like Britan and Japan that just didn’t have all of the resources they needed on hand. The US is bidding to become the first country in history that has the resources but it too stupid, greedy and short sighted to bother to maintain them.

        1. Canada? Really?

          Take a pill.

          1. So our entire defense supply chain just depends on Canada? You are okay with doing whatever is necessary to ensure that it doesn’t depend on any other nation? Really?

            1. What the hell is wrong with your brain?

              Can you not try to come up with some realistic plausible scenario where Canada cuts us off? You chose Canada, not me. You also chose “for whatever reason.” Stand by what you said, slaver.

              So a US president sends troops to Israel or Georgia or Argentina for whatever reason. And Canada voices their opposition by cutting off all exports of “arms related” stuff – including aluminium alloys and steel.

              Like I said, and you have refused to answer — if we act so badly that Canada of all countries decides to cut us off from steel and aluminum — how the hell is that realistic?

              And if you think that is realistic, then I say the hell with the USA that turned into such an evil country that made it realistic.

              1. Realistic? How about if they elect some socialist trash Jeremy Corbyn carbon copy and they decide to play mean (probably would be something Israel related, they can do no good in the eyes of the left).

                Certainly not impossible to happen as you like to pretend.

    2. Or what if China decides to go to war with us and our “allies” decide to stay neutral and get bullied into not exporting any steal? Even if they want to, unless you are talking about Canada, you have to have complete control of the sea lanes to get it to you.

      I think having a manufacturing base sufficient to support national defense is a legitimate priority. But Reason are bascially Utopians on this. They see the “free market” as an ideal that overrides all other concerns. If a policy brings us closer to the ideal of a free market, it is the right policy no matter what the costs. No other concerns can ever outweigh it.

      1. A realistic scenario is not Canada being backmailed / extorted / shamed into not exporting “steal”.

        If things come to that pass, we do indeed have far more serious problems.

        Try something realistic next time.

        1. Let me spell this out for you.

          If the world has so turned against the US, one of the largest and most self-sufficient countries in the world, that we would fail for lack of Canadian imports ….

          And if we have gotten embroiled in a war so egregious that even Canada hates our guts ….

          And …. and ….. what the hell do you have to do to make this even close to a realistic scenario?

          1. We are not the most self sufficient nations. That is what this whole debate is about and what you are trying to prevent. Again, it doesn’t matter if the world wants to send us goods if the sea lanes are not open for them to ship them to us. So you are basically saying that no country would ever control the shipping lanes and deny the US vital defense material.

            Come back to me when you have a more realistic assumption than “no one would ever do that:.

            1. Name countries which are more self-sufficient than the US.

              None? One?

              Or do you accept the premise that no country is self-sufficient? That kind of blows your bizarre scenarios out of the water. What good does it do to protect our “national security industries and resources” if we are NOT self-sufficient?

              Get real. Or at least be self-consistent.

            2. Our Navy is the most powerful in world, I think most would agree. So how would China come to dominate the shipping lanes and yet no nuclear warfare have taken place prior? If you need to manufacture weapons that late in the game you have already lost in world with nukes. If China were to attack us they would probably do a multi prong attack. Hit our communications and power grid by cyber-warfare and launch nukes at our cities and military installations. We would follow suit as quickly or preemptively (with CIA/NSA intel). The whole war would would last hours maybe and the survivors would be too focused on surviving to wage war.

              1. In WW II, the full industrial might took two years to come online. The carrier offensives in the Pacific didn’t begin until two years after Pearl Harbor, and that’s including many of the carriers had started building before Pearl Harbor.

                The first landings in Europe were 11 months after Pearl Harbor. Normandy took 2.5 years. The major air offensive took two years to take off (sic).

                No way even that speed could be replicated with today’s carriers and airplanes. This idea that we can build ourselves into a war after it has started is ludicrous.

                “National security” was a convenient loophole devoid of meaning.

                1. We have 11 super carriers and a number of large amphibious ships RIGHT NOW in service. The fuck are you talking about with speed.

                2. Poor alphabet troll does know about the Battle of Midway taking place 7 months after pearl harbor.

                  1. And we had troops in the Western Desert 5 months after Pearl Harbor. When the US entered the war it was decided that Africa would be first, then Europe, then the Pacific. That’s why it took so long for major progress in the Pacific, it was a lower priority

          2. You’re obviously forgetting the Great Pancake War between the US and Canada back a century or so ago when Canada refused to export maple syrup to the US.

      2. So tax everyone directly to open Pentagon Steel like we do with all defense spending. What’s a few more billion lost to Pentagon for another stupid boondoggle.

        If we did go to war with China, by the time the mills were needed to replenish our stocks the war would be over and one or both countries would be covered in nuclear fallout.

        1. Really. Dumb. I am sure small, concerted wars like Russia did in Ukraine are TOTALLY FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE in the future in the South China Sea or Taiwan.

          Keep living in fantasy land.

          1. And the manufacturing capability to produce replacement parts being necessary is very “unrealistic”

            1. I am not sure what you argue, are you saying we will not need replacement parts? Possibly true in a war like that. That being said, if we lose our capability to engineer advantages then replacement parts will not matter either because we will not be able to deter rivals or defeat them with whatever shoddy product we can produce in comparison.

              I can tell you, China is making a lot of very nice things and some of which we do not have the capability to produce en masse and field like they do. Our military advantage over them is illusory at best and weakens every year. Our leadership knows it, they know it. Chinese are capable of much more than theft, but can engineer some top of the line tech. We delude ourselves by pretending our military can cow rivals for eternity, especially at the direction things seem to be going now.

              1. /s

                We also have to consider how much of our tech they manufacture, how dependent we are on them for that, and how much we can produce ourselves.
                Really not a good idea to be dependent on our primary geopolitical rival for vital electronics, or anything else.

    3. Canada strongly disapproved of the Vietnam war, yet somehow no one ever even suggested knee-capping Canada’s aluminum and steel industries by embargoing exports to the USA.

  4. Nice to know they’ve got the votes to overcome a veto……what? oh. More theater.

  5. Congress to the rescue? wtf

    Should now be mandatory closed 35 consecutive days … per month

  6. Unless they have a veto proof majority, which I seriously doubt, they are not serious at all. Without overriding Trump’s veto this goes nowhere.

  7. “We need to be tough on China’s unfair and illegal trade practices. But we need to work with our allies to do it,” Warner said in a statement. “President Trump has strained our relationships with key allies and partners by abusing the authority that Congress granted him and stretching the concept of ‘national security’ beyond credulity.”

    Who could imagine that people with power tend to abuse that power? Besides James Madison, I mean.

    1. Better yet (in my opinion, probably not shared by you, I will own I am a China hawk, I do not like them fucking totalitarians), when has Congress EVEN GAVE ONE FLYING FUCK ABOUT TELLING CHINA TO FUCK OFF. Never. just like every other government in the world they spew a lot of bullshit that sounds nice then when China comes knocking saying “This time is different, oh hey, you know if you are real nice to us this time and forget the past four decades we will open up our market to you… PSYCH!!!! PFFT fucking dumb Westerners” they all go crawling out on their hands and knees begging the Chinese to open their markets to us.

      Fucking joke. Congress can fuck off with their sanctimonious bullshittery. About all they are good for is spewing a bunch of bullshit they have no interest in accomplishing.

  8. Congress looking to take back their legislative authority?

    Color me fucking shocked.

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  11. The article was excellent.

    This thread is appalling!

    The pro-tariff nitwits leave any sentient human being gasping for air.

    There are many things about China to be concerned about and resist — physically and otherwise. However, tariffs are like shooting yourself in the foot and hoping your opponent slips in your pooling blood and breaks his own neck. They are as achaic, wrong, and destructive as the Smoot-Hawley tariffs of the Great Depression days.

    Lighthizer (the old protectionist lobbyist for the steel industry) and Navarro (the academic dim bulb) need to go — now! China-haters with insane “solutions” for China problems.

    NOTHING the President does will bring back what for him (and some on this site) are apparently the “good old days”. He is aggressively ignorant of economics. He acts aggressively and impulsively. He avoids learning anything about economics. He understands the NYC “fixeroo” but little else. He evidences sociopathy daily. I hold no particular brief for Bob Woodward. But Jill Abramson’s review of his book, “Fear” (about the Trump White House), was stunning and rang true at every turn.

    Turning back the clock is for retards.

    Regard to all the well-intended.

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