Prepared Floor Remarks by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Chairman, Senate Finance Committee
Tuesday, November 5, 2019
When I resumed the Chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee in January, I laid out my top priorities for the committee’s work. For international trade, my agenda included reviewing Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which allows the president, without input from Congress, to impose tariffs in the name of national security.
For eleven months now, I’ve been working with Finance Committee members on both sides of the aisle to establish separation-of-powers and checks-and-balances in the 232 process. These two basic principles of our system of government are sorely lacking from Section 232 as it stands today.
Two of my colleagues on the Finance Committee, Senators Toomey and Portman, each filed reform bills that are well-thought-out and bipartisan. A full quarter of the Senate has co-sponsored one or both of their bills, including ten Democrats, fourteen Republicans, and one independent. Many other Senators have told me they too want to see Section 232 reforms reported out of the Finance Committee.
With a strong, bipartisan mandate like that, I’ve been optimistic that Ranking Member Wyden and I can reconcile the Toomey and Portman bills and hold a mark-up. More than once, I’ve spoken publicly about my intention to do so.
However, every time we get close to marking up a Section 232 bill, Senator Wyden hears from stakeholders who are profiting from tariff protection. Meanwhile, I get calls from colleagues who say: Mr. Chairman, the President won’t like us taking away his tariff law, and we don’t want to make the President upset.
Well, allow me to set the record straight on a few things.
First: as I’ve said before, reforming Section 232 is not about President Trump. Reforming Section 232 means acknowledging that the 87th Congress handed President Kennedy enormous authority over trade in 1962 at the height of the Cold War. President Trump merely followed the law. In the process he alerted us to the fact that Congress has been too negligent in the past of protecting our constitutional responsibility. Our Founding Fathers were explicit in tasking Congress with responsibility over international trade, and it’s time to rebalance Section 232 in line with their clear intentions.
Second: I’ve been clear that I’m generally not a fan of tariffs. But I also want to make clear that I’ve agreed to Senator Wyden’s request to introduce a Chairman and Ranking Member’s mark that does not unwind the Section 232 measures on steel and aluminum. Many problems with those tariffs and quotas have been well-documented, but I’ve been in the Senate long enough to know that getting things done requires compromise.
Third, to all of my colleagues and everyone listening: I don’t view section 232 reforms as weakening the power of the chief executive. I view them as enhancing the effectiveness of the chief executive and our country. As the Supreme Court told President Truman in 1952, the President is strongest when he has Congress behind him. We need reforms to Section 232 that make it clearer where Congress stands on national security and trade. Such reforms would also make it clearer to our trading partners that when section 232 is used, Congress stands with the President.
Now, with these points cleared up, I hope Ranking Member Wyden, members of the Finance Committee, and our House colleagues will be ready to reform Section 232. We have a strong, bipartisan mandate to get to work. And this is likely just the beginning of a great deal of work that needs to be done to review our trade laws. Senator Wyden and I have reported bipartisan bills out of committee successfully in the past, and I’m hopeful we can do it again for Section 232.