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March 8, 2018

Republicans Leerier of Trump's Tariffs than Democrats

IPI expert referenced: Merrill Matthews | In The News | Media Hit
  The News-Gazette

By Jim Dey

When it comes to President Donald Trump's recently announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, Republican elected officials, business-oriented news outlets and free-market think tanks have been competing with each other to see who could be most critical of the decision.

"If you want to stand up and protect American jobs, reconsider this policy," Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told the president.

Walker made his statement while visiting an ultra-thin-aluminum packaging plant in Oshkosh, Wis., a facility he said now faces "an existential threat" thanks to the tariff announcement.

He has been joined in his criticism of the Trump tariffs by two fellow Wisconsin Republicans — U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal editorial page has blasted Trump while restating its support for free-trade policies. Finally, the Illinois Policy Institute characterized the tariffs as further evidence that "big-moneyed, special interests can buy political access and favors."

"Even if one agrees that U.S.-made steel must be protected, the problem is that imposing large tariffs gives a green light to every other company or industry hoping to use government power to protect it from competition," IPI resident scholar Merrill Matthews said. "They will now descend on Washington, checkbook in hand. That's the swamp, or what's known as 'crony capitalism.'"

Given their past flirtations with protectionism, Democrats have been more restrained than Republicans in their denunciations of Trump.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader, Wednesday blasted Trump's move as counterproductive because "it could cause a mess of collateral damage that hurts America more than it helps."

But Illinois' two Democratic U.S. senators — Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth — have been notably restrained about the president's controversial move and for at least two good reasons.

One involves Granite City, where U.S. Steel said this week it will restart a blast furnace it shut down two years ago in anticipation of higher demand it expects to enjoy.

The company said it's recalling 500 workers, which they reluctantly had laid off because of what news reports described as "increasing competition from foreign competitors, particularly China."

The second reason is that what Trump did on tariffs is what the two senators had urged him to do.

On Feb. 21, Sen. Duckworth issued a lengthy statement in which she said it was "past time" for President Trump to take "action to level the playing field for our domestic steel industry" for reasons of both economic and national security.

"Illegal dumping of foreign steel has forced American companies to lower production and shutter factories in places like Granite City, Illinois, which has left hard-working Americans struggling to provide for their families," she said.

Both Durbin and Duckworth have been badgering the U.S. Commerce Department to complete a study it was conducting on how "illegal steel dumping is impacting our national security."

Duckworth said she and Durbin "encouraged the Commerce Department in April 2017 ... to crack down on unfair trade practices that are threatening America's steel industry and strengthen protections against the dumping of foreign-made steel in American markets."

More than 2,000 Granite City steelworkers have been laid off since 2015. Duckworth said the Illinois steel industry supports "64,000 jobs, including 9,400 jobs at steel mills, which could be at risk if the Trump administration does not take action to curb illegal steel dumping."

Since Trump's action, Durbin has been circumspect on the issue. His office declined to respond to an inquiry on the issue. On Tuesday, a Peoria public radio station quoted him as saying, "I hope we take care to get this job done."

Durbin said he wanted to "make sure American has a good steel industry," while at the same time, "we don't trigger a trade war which drives down the price of soybeans and corn and really hurts the Illinois economy."

Duckworth's office also declined to respond to a request for comment.

Trump's decision has turned traditional politics upside down because his trade policies are more popular with trade unions than business groups and more reflective of Democratic positions on trade than Republican ones.

During the 2016 campaign, both Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had similar positions on a number of trade issues, including renegotiating the North America Free Trade Pact approved under the presidency of Bill Clinton.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-3513-5369.


 

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