Congress must re­take pow­ers over trade

Re­cently, the United States Supreme Court de­clined to take up a chal­lenge to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s steel tar­iffs.

Fort Bragg Advocate-News - - NEWS - This edi­to­rial orig­i­nally ap­peared in our sis­ter news­pa­per, the Los Angeles Daily News

While this av­enue for po­ten­tially strik­ing down the tar­iffs is now off the ta­ble, the fact re­mains that the tar­iffs are bad pol­icy and not even good pol­i­tics on the part of the pres­i­dent. Congress should as­sert its con­sti­tu­tional pow­ers on trade and scale back the abil­ity of any pres­i­dent to uni­lat­er­ally im­pose tar­iffs.

The chal­lenge brought by the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Steel, a trade as­so­ci­a­tion for steel im­porters and com­pa­nies that use im­ported steel, chal­lenged the pres­i­dent’s 25 per­cent tar­iffs on steel im­ports. The group ar­gued the tar­iffs should be voided be­cause the law that au­tho­rized them “un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally del­e­gates leg­isla­tive power to the pres­i­dent.”

At is­sue is Sec­tion 232 of the Trade Ex­pan­sion Act of 1962, which al­lows the pres­i­dent to im­pose tar­iffs on na­tional se­cu­rity grounds. While Pres­i­dent Trump has largely touted tar­iffs as nec­es­sary to re­vi­tal­ize the Amer­i­can econ­omy or as a tool to lever­age more ad­van­ta­geous trade agree­ments, of­fi­cially the ad­min­is­tra­tion has in­voked Sec­tion 232’s na­tional se­cu­rity pow­ers to jus­tify the tar­iffs.

This is not the first that

Sec­tion 232 has been chal­lenged in court. A 1976 Supreme Court case, Fed­eral En­ergy Com­mis­sion v. Al­go­nquin SNG Inc., deal­ing with oil im­ports, con­cluded with the Supreme Court up­hold­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of Sec­tion 232. Still, the Con­sti­tu­tion is un­am­bigu­ous about which branch of the gov­ern­ment is to reg­u­late trade. Ar­ti­cle One, Sec­tion Eight plainly states that it is Congress’ power “to reg­u­late com­merce with for­eign na­tions, and among the sev­eral states, and with the In­dian tribes.”

Congress, as it has on a num­ber of is­sues, has cho­sen to cede part of this au­thor­ity to the ex­ec­u­tive branch. This al­lows Congress to avoid mak­ing tough calls while wrongly leav­ing sig­nif­i­cant pol­icy de­ci­sions to the whims of pres­i­dents. Congress has the power to re­gain their au­thor­ity.

And it should. Tar­iffs, it should be re­mem­bered, are just taxes on Amer­i­can con­sumers.

Taxes on steel im­ports and other goods don’t mean­ing­fully pro­tect na­tional se­cu­rity, but they do re­sult in higher costs to im­porters and com­pa­nies that rely on im­ports. Ac­cord­ing to the Tax Foun­da­tion, Sec­tion 232-jus­ti­fied tar­iffs on steel and alu­minum are a net neg­a­tive to both long-run GDP and to wages, and they de­stroy jobs. It should be re­mem­bered that even if sup­port­ers of tar­iffs can point to “new” or “saved” Amer­i­can steel jobs as a re­sult of tar­iffs, what’s not be­ing seen are the num­ber of jobs lost or never cre­ated be­cause of the higher cost of steel.

It is un­for­tu­nate that the pres­i­dent sees trade as a ze­ro­sum game. It’s not. Global trade has un­de­ni­ably been a net pos­i­tive for Amer­i­cans and peo­ple around the world.

Congress should do its job for a change and re­take its con­sti­tu­tional au­thor­ity over trade pol­icy.

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