Legislation to restrict the President’s Section 232 authority

Since taking office on January 20, 2017, President Trump has used Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1961 to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum.  The President is also considering imposing tariffs on auto, uranium, and titanium sponge imports under Section 232.  These actions have been controversial, with some expressing concerns about the broader economic impact and retaliation implications and others expressing support of the President’s efforts to achieve “fair and reciprocal trade.  Given these actions and possible future actions, several members of Congress have introduced legislation to address the President’s tariff powers.

There are three bills that garnered the most attention – two bills introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that would limit the President’s Section 232 tariff authority and one bill introduced in the House of Representatives only that would expand the President’s tariff authority.  There are some important distinctions between the three bills:

  • The Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act (S. 287 and H.R. 940), introduced by Sen. Toomey (R-PA) and Sen. Warner (D-VA) in the Senate and Rep. Kind (D-WI-3) and Rep. Gallagher (R-WI-8) in the House of Representatives, requires that Congress pass an “approval resolution” of any Section 232 restrictions within 60 days. Without congressional approval, the restrictions would not enter into force.  In addition, the bill would be retroactive–it would allow Congress to reconsider Section 232 tariffs levied within the last four years. (See the full bill here.)
  • The Trade Security Act (S. 3329), introduced by Sen. Portman (R-OH) and Sen. Jones (D-AL), would allow Congress to negate trade restrictions imposed by the president under Section 232 if it passes a joint resolution of disapproval.  The bill would only apply to future Section 232 investigations.  (See the full bill here.)
  • The United States Reciprocal Trade Act (H.R. 764), introduced by Rep. Duffy (R-WI-7), would expand the President’s authority to adjust tariff rates to “reciprocal levels.”  (See the full bill here.)

All these bills have been referred to the appropriate committees of jurisdiction, but no other action has been taken yet. However, given the ongoing investigations into additional Section 232 actions, Congress may become more interested in picking up these bills.

Author Megan Provost is Vice President for Policy and Programs at Farm Foundation. She previously worked at Dow AgroSciences, for a U.S. Senator, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and at American Farm Bureau Federation. She holds a masters degree in agricultural economics and a juris doctorate.

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