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Toomey renews call for tariff oversight after Trump threatens Mexico

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey is again advocating for legislation that would require congressional approval of trade actions amid the Trump administration's threats to levy tariffs on Mexican imports.

The Pennsylvania Republican last week renewed his push for the Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act, a bill introduced in January that would curb the president's power to make trade decisions through congressional empowerment. 

“The president’s use of tax hikes on Americans as a tool to affect change in Mexican policy is misguided," Toomey said in a new release. "It is past time for Congress to step up and reassert its constitutional responsibility on tariffs."

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Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) discusses the Blocking Deadly Fentanyl Imports Act at the York County Administrative Building in York City, Thursday, March 21, 2019. The bipartisan legislation would hold fentanyl-producing nations accountable for their compliance with United States fentanyl-related drug enforcement. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Frustrated by the inability to deter Central American immigration, Trump last week announced that he plans to impose a 5% tariff on all Mexican goods beginning next week to force the country to curb immigration. 

The tariff would gradually increase to 25%.   

Toomey's bill — which sits in the Finance Committee and has a companion bill in its respective House committee — further displays a break in the Republican Party over burdening consumers with tariffs and straining international relationships.

Neither Reps. Scott Perry nor Lloyd Smucker, both Republicans, responded to requests for comment. 

GOP lawmakers are already discussing a vote to block the tariffs, The Washington Post reported on Monday. Trump vetoed a measure in March to block his reallocation of border wall funding, but a new vote could come with a veto-proof majority.

Mexico also has threatened to respond with tariffs of its own amid talks at the White House.

If passed, Toomey's legislation would require that any trade actions garner congressional approval. It also has a four-year retroactive window, giving Congress the ability to revoke earlier tariffs, such as those on foreign steel and aluminum.

The legislation focuses on section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which provides the president nearly unchecked authority to impose tariffs on products that are believed to threaten national security.

The Department of Commerce determines the validity of those threats. Under Toomey's legislation, the Department of Defense would take over that role. The International Trade Commission also would report to Congress on the impact of trade measures.

Although the bill has remained dormant in committee alongside other bicameral legislation that specifically address the DOD's investigative powers, local business leaders say York County could use the relief.

York County Economic Alliance President Kevin Schreiber emphasized the dangers of tariffs, especially on the local economy, citing unpredictable markets and adverse effects on local industries.

"(Tariffs) become a mutual destruction, where you're just going to continue to get into this trade war," Schreiber said. "There are few winners in a trade war, and generally the consumers are not."

The industries most likely to be hindered by the tariffs locally are manufacturing, construction and agriculture, he added. In agriculture, that not only includes importing and exporting,  but also a reduction in migrant workers.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., declined to comment on Toomey's legislation but joined his Republican colleague by condemning Trump's use of tariffs to address immigration.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.