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February 11, 2019

U.S. Senate Finance Chair: “We’re Going To Do Something On 232”

President Donald Trump used his State of the Union address last week to ask federal lawmakers to pass H.R. 764, the Reciprocal Trade Act, which is sponsored by Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.). As Connecting the Dots previously explained, this bill would give the president line-by-line power to raise tariffs on individual products if U.S. trading partners charge higher import taxes. While the bill currently has 20 House cosponsors – all Republicans – based on legislation that has been introduced in the U.S. Senate, even if the bill were approved by the Democrat-held House, it would struggle to earn support in the GOP-led Senate where at least two bills to restrict the president’s trade powers already have been introduced.

As Connecting the Dots reported two weeks ago, a bipartisan group of senators led by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) already has introduced legislation, S. 287, which would require congressional approval of any tariffs proposed under Section 232 before those tariffs could take effect. That bill also would retroactively require a congressional vote of approval for Section 232 tariffs imposed within the last four years, including those put in place by President Donald Trump in 2018 on imports of steel and aluminum.

Last week, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) also introduced legislation related to the president’s Section 232 powers. Sen. Portman’s bill, The Trade Security Act, would:

  • Bifurcate the existing Section 232 process into an investigation phase, to be led by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), and a remedy phase that would be led by the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC).
  • Require the DoD, instead of the DoC, to justify the national security basis for new tariffs under Section 232and make the determination about the national security threat posed by imports of certain products. If a threat is found, DoD would send its report to the president. In the event that the president wants to take action, he or she would then direct the Secretary of Commerce, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense and the U.S. Trade Representative, to develop recommendations for how to respond to the threat. After receiving the recommendations of the Secretary of Commerce, the president would decide whether to take action.
  • Increase the role of Congress in the Section 232 process by expanding the process whereby Congress can disapprove of a Section 232 action by passing a joint resolution of disapproval. Currently, Section 232 contains a disapproval resolution process limited only to the disapproval of actions on oil imports. This bill would expand the use of that disapproval resolution process to all types of products. The reformed disapproval process will only apply to future Section 232 actions.
  • Require consultation with Congressthroughout the Section 232 process.

Sen. Portman’s legislation also has bipartisan support.

Additionally, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, which would be tasked with considering both the Toomey and Portman legislation if it moves forward, said he preferred the approach taken by his colleague from Ohio. According to Politico, Chairman Grassley argued that Sen. Toomey’s bill was “too blunt,” but also noted he hasn’t “endorsed any approach” even though “we’re going to do something on 232.” Connecting the Dots will continue to report on these bill when, or if, they start to make their way through the legislative process.