Local farmers and manufacturers are beginning 2019 still feeling the financial effects of tariffs implemented by the Trump administration last year. Those tariffs were authorized under a little-known, Cold War-era trade statute that U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) is now looking to change.
During a sit-down meeting with reporters in his Washington office Thursday, Toomey unveiled the Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act of 2019. The legislation, introduced with Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), is similar to a proposal Toomey wrote with former Sen. Bob Corker during the previous Congress.
Toomey's plan would take away some of President's tariff authorization power and give it back to Congress. It would drastically revamp Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which delegated from Congress to the Executive Branch the authority to put tariffs or quotas on imports that "threaten to impair" U.S. national security. His proposal would give that power back to the legislative branch from the executive branch.
"Section 232" is the provision that allowed the Trump administration to slap a 25 percent tariff on foreign steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum. Such actions have created a ripple effect throughout the economy, resulting in U.S. importers paying additional taxes worth $40 billion combined on those two products.
"These tariffs are taxes that American consumers have to pay for imported products that, in some cases, are not available anywhere else," Toomey said. "In any case, there’s a good reason why they’re being imported."
More than 50 Pennsylvania companies representing tens of thousands of employees have reached out to Toomey's office seeking exemptions on products affected by the tariffs, the Senator said. He cited one company in particular whose hardships were most visible: Allegheny Technologies. The Pittsburgh-based manufacturer, which produces specialty metals, scaled back operations by 40 percent as a result of the tariffs' impact, Toomey explained.
"The government shouldn't be picking winners and losers, forcing taxpayers to pay more for some products and less for others," he added. "That's not the role the government should play."
Warner is among five Democratic senators to co-sponsor the legislation. Six Republican senators, including Toomey, are also on the bill.
"President Trump has strained our relationships with key allies and partners by abusing the authority that Congress granted him and stretching the concept of ‘national security’ beyond credulity," Warner said in a statement.
The notion that tariffs imposed by the Trump administration were needed to protect national security from neighboring countries Canada and Mexico did not sit well with Pennsylvania's junior senator. The new proposal transfers investigative authority on Section 232 goods from the Department of Commerce to the Secretary of Defense; and it would more specifically define "national security," and restricts investigations to goods with defense-related needs such as military equipment or energy resources. They must also constitute a "substantial cause" of a threat to national security.
Another key provision under Toomey's new proposal, according to a statement: "If Congress does not pass an approval resolution within 75 days after enactment, Section 232 tariffs and quotas imposed within the last 4 years are repealed." Notably, Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum.
"I think this is an opportunity to say if the President wants to use national security as a justification for taxing Americans on an imported product," Toomey said, "Congress needs to say that's okay."