Congress: Reject the U.S. Reciprocal Trade Act

January 24, 2019

Dear Members of Congress:

On behalf of ALEC Action, the advocacy affiliate of the American Legislative Exchange Council, I urge you to reject H.R. 764, the Reciprocal Trade Act. This Act would erode Congress’ constitutional authority over international commerce as outlined in Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution and could result in policies that slow and even reverse America’s enviable economic growth and job creation trajectory.

The Reciprocal Trade Act would shift authority over international trade policy to the Executive Branch upending the intricate balance of powers outlined in the U.S. Constitution. Article 1 Section 8 states that “The Congress shall have the Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States…”. This same section gives Congress the power “To regulate commerce with foreign nations.” The President can already negotiate trade agreements, however congressional review and approval are required before they come into force. The Reciprocal Trade Act would empower the Executive Branch to enter into trade agreements without Congressional oversight or approval. This would strip the Legislative Branch of its authority over trade amassing an enormous amount of power in the Executive Branch.

America’s Founding Fathers placed jurisdiction for imposing tariffs with the Legislative not the Executive Branch, however Congress has gradually surrendered this authority to the Executive effectively removing vital checks on the Executive Branch. The Reciprocal Trade Act signals a further retreat from Congress’ constitutional responsibility and will result in greater consolidation of power in the presidency. It is time for Congress to reassert its constitutional authority over trade policy, and a next step in that direction would be to reject the Reciprocal Trade Act.

In the hands of a President who considers protectionism a viable economic strategy, the Reciprocal Trade Act has the potential to undermine the U.S. economy. International commerce is an economic engine that is responsible for sustaining 35 million American jobs spread across all 50 states. Tariffs are taxes that are placed on goods entering the United States and are ultimately paid by hardworking Americans. They do not improve the overall employment picture and often harm the very workers and families they are enacted to help. Job creating U.S. businesses rely on imported components – many of which are not manufactured in the United States or offered by domestic manufacturers at competitive prices. The tariffs enacted in the past two years have led to the elimination of American jobs.

Far from opening overseas markets to U.S. business, tariffs spur retaliatory tariffs. Steel and aluminum tariffs enacted last year resulted in China’s retaliatory tariffs on U.S. soybeans that have had a devastating impact on the American agricultural sector. Formerly self-reliant farmers now need to rely on government subsidies to make ends meet. Tariffs, if they should be considered at all, should only be enacted following careful Congressional deliberation.

Instead of erecting barriers to trade, we should be tearing them down. Instead of ceding greater power over trade to the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch should exert its constitutional authority. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley said earlier this month, “We aren’t going to give [the President] any greater authority. We’ve already delegated too much.” ALEC Action agrees and calls on Congress to fulfill its constitutional responsibility on international commerce.

Very respectfully,

Lisa B. Nelson

CEO, ALEC Action