February 12, 2019 at 5:00 am ET
Now that the 116th Congress has convened, we have a new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee: U.S. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.). He has taken the gavel at a time when an international trade war is imposing economic burdens on American consumers and businesses.
As chairman of the committee with trade oversight, Neal has the opportunity to help remove those burdens and increase opportunities that will make life better for all Americans. We hope he does just that, and here are two recommendations to that end. First: Fight all unfair tariffs and trade barriers; and second: Work to restore to Congress some of the constitutional authority on tariffs that Congress granted to the president.
First, we call on Neal to stand firm for his constituents against all unfair tariffs and trade barriers.
Neal’s home state of Massachusetts is already seeing the impact. The Trump administration’s tariffs begat retaliatory levies from China on our seafood exports. Lobster distributor Stephanie Nadeua said: “They’ve taken our business, and I don’t know how we’ll ever get it back. The longer this goes on, the more difficult it will make it for us to resume our relationship with our customers.”
Brian Zolner, chief executive of Bricasti, which makes audio equipment in Shirley, Mass., reported that as a result of the steel and aluminum tariffs: “Our metal costs arbitrarily rose by as much as 50 percent. … The whole thing is very frustrating to me as a manufacturer.”
Brian Wick, who represents the struggling cranberry growing industry, lamented that “it’s most unfortunate and very bad timing, definitely, when we’re trying to grow export markets. The tariffs will hurt that.”
According to a recent study, if the Trump administration implemented every tariff it has proposed, Americans would suffer through lower wages, higher prices and lower investment returns. The cost to American households would average $2,357 in 2019, or $915 per person. Over 12 years (from 2018 to 2030), that amounts to an astounding average of $17,276 per household.
That’s bad enough, but many Americans will suffer an even worse consequence: job loss. A projected 2.75 million workers will become unemployed. A high proportion of those losses will hit agricultural and low-skilled workers.
While the administration recently announced that it would postpone a 25 percent tariff on $200 billion in Chinese goods, a 10 percent levy on them remains in effect.
Continued prosperity and innovation here at home means we must expand opportunities for American businesses and entrepreneurs around the world. Neal and his colleagues should work with the administration, not only on lifting trade barriers, but also on pursuing mutually beneficial trade agreements with key U.S. trading partners such as the United Kingdom, Japan and Taiwan.
Second, Neal should lead congressional efforts to reclaim tariff authority that Congress delegated to the executive branch. During the last session of Congress, legislation was proposed to restore to Congress some of the authority granted to it under Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution that, “Congress shall have Power … To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations.”
Tariffs are taxes on American consumers and producers, and, like all federal taxes, they should face an up-or-down vote in Congress before taking effect. This will restore the constitutional safeguards that ensure that taxes are imposed only after the full deliberation by the people’s representatives.
We look forward to seeing what the new Congress will do to lift barriers to trade and create more opportunity for ordinary Americans. As chairman of Ways and Means, Neal can play a critical role to generate bipartisan support for trade policies that grow our economy and improve lives. That means fighting to lift trade barriers and restoring Congress to its rightful leadership role on tariffs.
Tim Phillips is president of Americans for Prosperity.
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