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How to restrain the President: Congress and trade policy

Since his inauguration, President Trump has levied aggressive, unilateral tariffs on numerous products, which has triggered foreign retaliation against American exports. However, the controlling of international trade is originally Congress’s responsibility, as the Constitution clearly gives it the power to “lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises.” But, by its own design and through the actions of many decades, the legislative branch has made itself a marginal player in trade.

In a new policy paper, R Street trade policy counsel, Clark Packard and senior governance fellow, Philip Wallach explain how and why Congress put itself in this position; analyze what the appropriate stance of Congress should be; and then survey current efforts to restore the relevancy of the legislative branch with respect to trade issues, which come in a wide variety of forms. They conclude by exploring concrete steps the new Congress can take to rein in the president’s tariff authorities.

The paper points out that Congress began delegating enormous trade policy authority to the executive branch shortly after the disastrous Smoot-Hawley tariffs were passed in the early 1930s. While this arrangement worked for nearly 90 years as presidents of both parties worked to open foreign markets and lower our own trade barriers, it’s now being turned on its head.

In response, Congress has been vocal about President Trump’s aggressive protectionist policies but they have failed to move meaningful legislation to curtail his powers and overturn his actions. The authors argue that there are concrete ways for Congress to restrain the president’s agenda in a balanced way and to restore some of the authority granted to Congress by Article 1 of the United States Constitution.

The authors conclude: “Congress should embrace its constitutional responsibility over trade policy by ensuring that no president can unilaterally start trade wars or protect politically favored industries through selective tariff increases.”

Read more here.

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Topics: Oversight