Bipartisan group of senators look to rein in Trump’s use of ‘national security’ tariffs – By Sean Higgins (Washington Examiner) / Feb 6 2019
A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation Wednesday to rein in the White House’s ability to use national security as a rationale for instituting new tariffs. The legislation would require the Defense Department to justify the tariffs before they could go into effect and allow Congress to kill it by passing a motion of disapproval.
“This bipartisan legislation preserves this trade tool while properly placing the national security designation at the Department of Defense and expanding the role of Congress in the process,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a former U.S. trade representative under President George W. Bush, and the bill’s lead sponsor.
His bill, dubbed the Trade Security Act, is co-sponsored by Sens. Doug Jones, D-Ala., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Todd Young, R-Ind.
Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act allows tariffs on the grounds of national security, and the Trump administration has used that provision to justify blanket tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The administration has argued that domestic industries must be protected so they can be around to supply metals to the military.
Portman’s bill would add several extra steps to this process, from requiring the Pentagon to consult to adding notice requirements to Congress. “The Department of Defense, not the Department of Commerce, should evaluate and verify the national security basis for these tariffs,” said Ernst.
Lawmakers could also kill a tariff by passing a disapproval through both chambers.
The tariffs have angered trade partners such as Canada and Mexico, who argue that, as longtime allies that share a border with the U.S., they are no security threat and therefore the levies shouldn’t be applied to them. They have lobbied the White House to exempt them, but the Trump administration has said that it cannot make exceptions without undermining the purpose of the tariffs.
Separate legislation to rein in the tariffs, dubbed the Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act, was introduced last week by Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Mark Warner, D-Va. That legislation would require Congress to affirmatively approve the tariffs before they could go into effect, whereas Portman’s would allow tariffs to go into effect if Congress did not pass a measure to stop them.
“The fundamental difference is that my bill restores this authority to Congress and the president jointly by requiring congressional assent,” Toomey said.