Senate votes to reassert congressional role in tariff oversight

congressIn response to President Trump’s abuse of Section 232 to unilaterally impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from our closest allies, the Senate today voted 88-11 to re-assert Congress’ constitutional role in U.S. trade policy. U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), who is a leading sponsor of bipartisan legislation requiring the White House to seek Congressional approval before issuing tariffs designated in the interest of national security, applauded today’s move.

“President Trump’s ill-considered steel and aluminum tariffs will make it more expensive for Virginians to buy something as big as a new car or as small as a can of beer. They’re also causing unnecessary pain and uncertainty for Virginia’s ag producers as our allies impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports of soybeans, pork, and more,” said Sen. Warner. “I believe that we should hold China accountable for unfair trade practices, and I support strong trade enforcement rules that protect American workers. But the President should not be relying on a law intended to uphold national security in order to impose tariffs on our strongest allies.”

Added Senator Warner, “A majority of Senators from both parties have sent a message to President Trump that using ‘national security’ as a pretext to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum from our closest allies is unacceptable. While today’s vote was non-binding, it’s a good first step in re-asserting Congress’ constitutional responsibility on trade policy. We must act in order to make sure that Americans can keep buying affordable products and selling our goods abroad.”

Today’s vote was a procedural motion on what’s known as a “motion to instruct,” directing Senators working to reconcile differences between separate funding packages passed by the House and the Senate to push for the inclusion of language that would give Congress a say in the White House’s national security tariffs. One way lawmakers could comply with the motion to instruct would be to adopt language closely mirroring legislation introduced by Sen. Warner along with Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) that would require the president to submit to Congress any proposal to adjust imports in the interest of national security under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. President Trump has used this provision to impose steel and aluminum tariffs that target imports from some of the United States’ closest allies like Canada, Mexico, and the European Union. As a result, businesses that make products containing these materials, such as Virginia craft beer producers, expect to see increased production costs that will likely mean higher prices for Virginia consumers.

In addition, several countries have announced they plan to impose retaliatory tariffs on key Virginia agricultural exports in response to the Administration’s trade policy. Just last week, as retaliation for the President’s trade moves, Beijing slapped a 25 percent tariff increase on imports of several U.S. products, including soybeans and pork. Given that the Chinese are the world’s leading consumers of pork, and the country purchases nearly one-third of all U.S. soybean production, the maneuver is expected to further hurt pork producers and soybean growers in Virginia who were already reeling as a result of President Trump’s trade policies.

The bill, which has 16 bipartisan Senate co-sponsors, has been endorsed by more than 270 business and agricultural groups, including the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. A longer list of organizations supporting the bill is available here.

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