Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Morgan Griffith on Reclaiming Constitutional Trade Authority

From U.S. Representative Morgan Griffith (R-VA-9):

Making Government More Responsive

Since being elected to Congress, a constant among my priorities has been improving the way the federal government operates. This includes protecting you from an overreaching government, making the budgeting process better, increasing transparency, reclaiming and defending the authority of the legislature, etc.

As part of my ongoing efforts to change Washington and improve the way it does the people’s business, I am involved in the House Republican initiative to curtail executive overreach, impose new limits on spending, and restore self-government and the separation of powers.

More specifically, Congress over the last century has ceded increasing authority to the Executive branch to, among other things, shape and determine U.S. policy regarding trade amongst the nations of the world.

In an effort to remedy this, next month I will be introducing legislation to establish a Joint Ad Hoc Congressional Committee on Trade Responsibilities which would be tasked with developing a plan to move to the legislative branch functions and responsibilities of the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), which would be in accordance with Article I, Section 8 of our Constitution.

Backing up a bit…

Article 1, Section 8 establishes that Congress shall have power “To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises…” and “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations…” Further, the courts have reaffirmed that “when the President exercises authority in regulating foreign commerce, he or she does so as Congress’ agent” (Canadian Lumber Trade Alliance vs. the United States) and that “imports from a foreign country are foreign commerce subject to regulation, so far as this country is concerned, by Congress alone (United States v. Guy W. Capps, Inc.).”

Accordingly, Members of Congress have historically had primary responsibility for compiling and proposing reductions/suspensions of import duties.

But Congress has ceded broad responsibilities for negotiating trade deals and import duties to the USTR, most recently through the renewal of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).

Though I believe U.S. trade interests can be more effectively pursued with a return to greater Congressional participation in and oversight of trade negotiations (see below), I recognize that 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 members of the Senate realistically cannot be engaged in day-to-day negotiations on trade agreements. USTR ought to continue in its role of negotiating trade agreements, but it ought to be done under the authority of the legislative branch.

Imagine, if you will, that USTR is a tree. My bill would simply establish a plan to dig up the USTR tree, roots and all, from out of the White House lawn, transport it a few blocks up the road, and replant it in the grounds of the United States Capitol, where the founding fathers intended commerce (trade) with foreign nations to be rooted.

Under my bill, this transfer would need to be done within four years after their final report or by July 1, 2021, whichever is later. Additionally, the Congressional Committee, which would consist of members of both the House and the Senate, would be advised in creating this plan by an Advisory Board appointed by Congress and the President. This advisory board will consist of individuals with expertise on the constitutional roles of the President and Congress regarding trade policy as well as individuals who represent labor, industry, agriculture, and other interests.

Earlier, I advised readers to “see below.” Well, in a famous incident recorded in Beth Macy’s book “Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local — and Helped Save an American Town,” the notorious John Bassett III was speaking with a lawyer from the trade representative’s office.

“What country do you represent?” Bassett asked.

“Um, the United States,” the lawyer replied.

Bassett said, “We've been here forty-five minutes and you haven't mentioned our country once. Listen, you are not paid to look after these other countries, you're paid to look after us.”

As the story goes, the staffer objected and said, “No one's ever talked to me like this before.”

But Bassett cut him off, saying, “Well, somebody should have, sir. China has its own trade rep, and I'm quite sure that person is capable of looking after China. Yo' job is to look after us.”

I believe my bill will make the USTR more responsive to American people and businesses.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.