Donald Trump’s economic record before the pandemic was impressive despite his administration’s insistence on hampering his own growth aspirations with counterproductive trade wars and punitive tariffs. A recently published report on the matter highlights how federal law gives presidents too much leeway when it comes to using “national security” as an excuse for protectionism.
Throughout his presidency, Mr. Trump has sought to shield American industries from the disruptive dynamics of global competition by limiting imports or making them more expensive through taxes and levies. Although often popular, there is little evidence that this approach offers more than a brief respite for the industries concerned, but the former president was adamant about protecting certain domestic manufacturers, especially steel producers. and aluminum.
Mr. Trump has also spent a lot of time shaking his sword over potential tariffs on imports and auto parts. In 2018, he asked his Commerce Department to write a report on how these duties would align with the provisions of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which gives the President wide discretion to impose tariffs. tariffs under the guise of “national security”.
In 2019, Republican free traders and Democrats in Congress requested access to the document when Mr. Trump threatened to tax car imports. But the White House ignored a subsequent order from Congress to produce the report.
But with the former president based in Mar-a-Lago, the Biden administration ultimately made the 116-page review available for inspection. As Reason.com’s Eric Boehm pointed out last week, even Mr. Trump’s own Commerce Department barely bothered to use a fig leaf for its shaky rationale.
“In accordance with these inquiries, the secretary of this inquiry has again determined that” national security “for the purposes of (the Trade Expansion Act) includes the” general safety and welfare of certain industries, besides beyond those necessary to meet the requirements of national defense, which are critical to the minimum operations of the economy and government ”. “
In other words, there is hardly any US industry that would not be eligible for White House trade protection under this six-decade-old law.
Regardless of the position on trade, there should be broad agreement that decisions about trade policy should be debated and implemented by Congress with the consent of the president, and not delegated to executive bureaucrats. As the Autotariff report reveals, the Trade Expansion Act gives too much power to the White House to use “national security” to unilaterally enforce policy. If they don’t kill the law, members of both parties should work together in Congress to tighten the law and reclaim their own authority.