Restraining the president: Congress and trade policy

Key Points

Shortly after the disastrous Smoot-Hawley tariffs were passed in the early 1930s, Congress began delegating enormous trade policy authority to the executive branch. Today, Congress is a bit player in setting trade policy. While this arrangement worked for nearly 90 years as presidents of both parties worked to open foreign markets and lower its own trade barriers, it’s now being turned on its head.
Congress has complained about President Trump’s aggressive protectionist policies, but they have failed to move meaningful legislation to curtail his powers and overturn his actions.
The paper offers concrete ways for Congress to restrain the president’s agenda in a balanced way — one that wouldn’t recreate the institutional dynamics that led to the Smoot-Hawley tariffs but would restore some of the authority granted to Congress by Article 1 of the United States Constitution.

Congress should embrace its constitutional responsibility over trade policy by ensuring that no president can unilaterally start trade wars or protect politically favored industries through selective tariff increases.

Press release: How to restrain the President: Congress and trade policy

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