What others say: Senate stands back amid escalating trade conflict

  • Saturday, June 23, 2018 11:30pm
  • Opinion

Would Republicans in Congress stay mute if a President imposed income or sales taxes on U.S. industries on an arbitrary whim? We doubt it, so it’s dispiriting to see Senate Republicans let Donald Trump impose tens of billions of dollars in border taxes without so much as a vote of protest.

That’s the sad story as GOP Senators last week blocked a vote on Bob Corker’s amendment to reclaim at least some of the power to impose tariffs that Congress has ceded to Presidents. Perhaps Mr. Trump took the silence as assent because he is escalating. On Monday he threatened tariffs on up to $450 billion in Chinese goods, and financial markets are finally losing their foolish complacency. Shares in exporters vulnerable to retaliation like Boeing and Caterpillar fell more than 3.6% Tuesday.

Mr. Corker’s bipartisan measure would have required Congress to approve trade restrictions that Mr. Trump is imposing under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. This is the law that lets a President impose more or less whatever tariffs he wants with an elastic definition of national security. Mr. Trump has used this open-ended authority to inflict his 25% tariff on steel and 10% on aluminum, and he’s threatening a 25% levy on imported cars under the same law. His new China tariffs are based on a different legal rationale (Section 301).

“I would bet that 95 percent of the people on this side of the aisle support intellectually this amendment,” Mr. Corker said on the floor with some acidity. “And a lot of them would vote for it if it came to a vote. But, no, no, no. ‘Gosh, we might poke the bear’ is the language I’ve been hearing in the hallways.”

Mr. Corker is right that GOP leaders fear a Trump tweet in the middle of election season. Some of them are also griping in private that Mr. Corker has the luxury of bucking the President because he isn’t running for re-election. But Mr. Corker’s modest bill isn’t the political threat to Republicans. The growing damage from Mr. Trump’s trade war is.

By not allowing trade votes, Republicans are giving Mr. Trump free rein to impose tariffs that are doing substantial economic harm to many of their constituents. Farm state Senators deserve a chance to vote against tariffs that are spurring retaliation against U.S. agricultural exports of everything from pork to apples. So do Senators who represent U.S. manufacturers. The fear of a Trump tantrum is precluding an important fight about what the party of free enterprise supposedly believes.

The economic fallout may also hurt the GOP’s chances of holding the Senate in November. Democrats Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota) and Claire McCaskill (Missouri) are running against the tariffs as a way to oppose Mr. Trump and defend their states’ agricultural interests. The longer Republicans shrink from standing up to Mr. Trump’s protectionism, the more voters will conclude that Republicans in Congress are complicit in the damage.

—The Wall Street Journal. June 19, 2018

More in Opinion

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: Hard to fill positions?

Paying poverty wages to support staff, secretaries and custodians is unacceptable yet routine behavior by our district

A copy of the State of Alaska Official Ballot for the June 11, 2022, Special Primary Election is photographed on May 2, 2022. (Peninsula Clarion staff)
Choosing a candidate – Who will best represent us in D.C.?

Voters are encouraged to do homework before casting a vote

Tourists watch as one of two cubs belonging to an 18-year-old sow black bear crosses the path between groups of tourists visiting the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Tourists have pushed us to critical mass in parts of Juneau

I don’t go to the glacier in the summer now to hike or watch bears.

Sens. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, left, and Robert Myers, R-North Pole, read through one of 41 amendments submitted to the state’s omnibus budget bill being debate on the floor of the Alaska State Senate on Monday, May 9, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: The Alaska Senate’s foolish gamble

“All these conservative people just spent all our money”

Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships. (logo provided)
Point of View: A few ideas for Mental Health Awareness Month

What are some things you can practice this month and subsequently apply to your life?

Alex Koplin is a founding member of Kenai Peninsula Votes. (courtesy photo)
Voices of the Peninsula: 1 candidate dined, 47 to go

By Alex Koplin Last month, I wrote a satirical piece for the… Continue reading

Smoke from the Swan Lake Fire impairs visibility on the Sterling Highway on Aug. 20, 2019. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Alaskans should prepare for wildfire season

Several past large fire seasons followed snowy winters or unusually rainy springs

Most Read