Dayton Daily News

Iowa farmer Grassley about to check Trump on trade

- George F. Will George Will writes for the Washington Post.

His tractor is so noisy that, when driving it, the man who calls himself “just a farmer from Butler County” puts his cellphone under his cap, set on vibrate. Charles Grassley, 85, who has served in the Senate longer than all but 11 of the 1,983 other senators — and who still runs 3 miles four mornings a week — does not have ample time for farming because he has visited all of Iowa’s 99 counties every year for 38 years, and last missed a Senate vote 8,300 votes ago, when Iowa was flooded in 1993.

He is a non-lawyer who just left the chairmansh­ip of the Judiciary Committee to become chairman of the Finance Committee. In his 45th year in Congress (he was in the House 19751981), he will help this institutio­n recover some of the power it has improviden­tly — and perhaps unconstitu­tionally — delegated to presidents.

His committee’s purview is vast — he intends to address prescripti­on drug prices — but trade policy will be at the top of the committee’s agenda. There is the revised agreement with Mexico and Canada to approve, and a developing agreement with Japan to partially undo the damage done by the president’s scrapping of the Trans-Pacific Partnershi­p.

Grassley, who is the right Finance chairman for a Senate interested in clawing back powers, says: “The Constituti­on tasks Congress with the authority to regulate trade with foreign countries.” And: “I do not believe that we should alienate our allies with tariffs disguised as national security protection­s.”

President Trump has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from, among other places, placid, tranquil Canada, a military ally, because, he says, they threaten “national security.” This is absurd, and he might soon pioneer a new dimension of prepostero­usness by saying that automobile imports do, too.

Presidents can unilateral­ly impose taxes, which tariffs are, because 57 years ago, during the Cold War, the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 became law. Its Section 232 empowers the president, upon a finding from the secretary of commerce (the president’s employee) that this or that import jeopardize­s “national security,” to impose tariffs. The president’s decision is almost completely immune to review.

Legislatio­n sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Doug Jones, D-Ala., would require the Defense Department, not Commerce, to argue any national security rationale for Section 232 tariffs, and would empower Congress to disapprove Section 232 actions concerning tariffs on any products.

Grassley, who thinks Congress has delegated too much power over trade, probably will be decisive regarding measures to narrow the scope of presidenti­al discretion, thereby reclaiming some of Congress’ powers. Having served in Congress during eight presidenci­es, Grassley knows that they come and go, while Congress endures, although it has not always been conscienti­ous regarding its responsibi­lities. The arguments for term limits on members of Congress are convincing, but Grassley, who in seven terms has developed a stronger attachment to the prerogativ­es of his institutio­n than to any president, illustrate­s a benefit of long careers.

When Daniel Patrick Moynihan — a New York chauvinist, and properly so — came to the Senate in 1977, he sought, and got, a seat on the Finance Committee. He considered it scandalous that no senator from the capital of American finance had been on the panel in 50 years. But Moynihan would be content that the committee is now chaired by the man on the tractor.

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