I & I Editorial
President Trump’s announcement that he intends to impose tariffs on Mexico unless it works with the U.S. to staunch the flow of illegal immigrants across the border raised hackles all over Washington.
On Thursday, Trump said he’d impose 5% tariffs on all Mexican goods starting next week. He said they’d climb to 25% if Mexico didn’t step in to halt illegal border crossings.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) decried it as a “stunt.” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called it a “misuse of presidential tariff authority.”
Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), who heads the House Small Business Committee, complained that Trump “has yet again failed to understand — increasing tariffs means placing unnecessary taxes on the backs of American workers and small businesses.”
Leave aside the fact that Trump’s aggressive move appears to have had its intended effect. Soon after his announcement, Mexico dispatched a delegation to start border control talks on Monday.
Critics of the tariff threat are right that tariffs are little more than taxes on imported goods, paid for by consumers in higher prices. And there are increased calls to rein in the president’s seemingly boundless ability to impose tariffs.
But what Trump’s critics — especially those on the other side of the aisle — never mention is the fact that all of the legislation that is handing Trump the authority to engage in trade wars was passed by Democrats. And all but one piece of it was signed by Democratic presidents.
Shortly before the 2016 election, Gary Hufbauer looked into whether Trump could make good on his tariff threats should he be elected.
“The short answer, at least in the short term, is ‘yes,’ both because of the president’s constitutional power over foreign affairs and because multiple statutes enacted by Congress over the past century authorize the president to impose tariffs or quotas on imports and regulate foreign commerce in other ways as well.”
Trump has taken full use of these powers.
He justified his tariffs on steel and aluminum imports using section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. That law gives the Commerce secretary the ability to determine if imports of certain goods pose a threat to national security, and Secretary Wilbur Ross has declared that steel and aluminum imports met that test.
And who’s responsible for the Trade Expansion Act? In 1962, Democrats controlled the House with a 262-175 majority. They controlled the Senate by a 64-36 margin. Democratic President Kennedy signed the bill into law on October 11, 1962.
Trump used a provision of the Trade Act of 1974 — called Section 301 — to impose tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods. That provision lets the president do so if another country’s actions “violate, or are inconsistent with, a trade agreement; or are unjustifiable and burden or restrict U.S. commerce,” according to the Congressional Research Service.
The Congress that approved this bill was dominated by Democrats, who controlled the Senate 56-42 and the House 242-192. President Ford signed it into law just months after Nixon resigned.
In making his most recent threat against Mexico, Trump cited the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977 as giving him authority to do so. That law lets the president impose tariffs during a national emergency, which is what Trump has declared on the nation’s border.
And which party in Congress was responsible for giving this authority to the president? You got it. Democrats controlled the Senate by a 61-37 margin, and the House by a 292-143 margin.
When the bill reached the president’s desk in October 1977, it was Democrat Jimmy Carter who put his signature on it.
Trade isn’t the only area where congressional Democrats have emboldened the president at their expense. During the Obama administration, Democrats gleefully handed the executive branch more authority and turned a blind eye to Obama’s abuses.
Of course, Republicans have done the same in the past. But in this case, it’s Republicans who are leading the effort to pull back some of the president’s ability to unilaterally declare trade wars without any congressional input.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) introduced a bill with Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) that would more tightly define national security, and require congressional approval for tariff hikes to take effect. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is drafting a similar bill.
Over in the House, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) introduced legislation that would impose similar restrictions. Americans for Prosperity, a group supported by the libertarian Koch network, even offered to help House Speaker Nancy Pelosi get the legislation through the House. Needless to say, she didn’t embrace the offer.
And more than four months after Gallagher introduced his bill, it’s still stuck in the Democrat-controlled House Ways and Means Committee.
— Written by John Merline
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