Tariffs, the Constitution, and the Congress

Donald Trump’s ignorance and incoherence on trade were on full display during his presidential campaign, but it was not until this year that he acted on those impulses—to the detriment of the American people.

Congress is partly to blame for this.

Article I, section 8, paragraph 1 of the Constitution reads:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.

The Tariff Act of 1789 instituted the first tariffs in the United States “for that support of government, for the discharge of the debts of the United States, and the encouragement and protection of manufactures.” It was passed by Congress, not unilaterally decreed by the president.

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Laurence M. Vance
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But, unfortunately, Congress later passed the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, the Trade Act of 1974, and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977. These Acts gave power to the president that the Constitution never intended.

According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics

Under the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, during time of war, the president has power over “all forms of international  commerce, plus the power to freeze and seize foreign-owned assets of all kinds.”

Under the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, the president can “impose tariffs or quotas as needed to offset the adverse impact” on “national security from imports.”

Under the Trade Act of 1974, the president has the authority to “impose…

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