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Freshman Democrat Struggling to Get Republican Support for Bill to Limit Use of Tariffs

Freshman Democrat Stephanie Murphy of Florida is already making a name for herself on trade, both during House Ways and Means Committee hearings and through leading an effort to restrict the administration's ability to levy tariffs on national security grounds without congressional approval.

But that bill, the Reclaiming Congressional Trade Authority Act of 2019, is proving a heavier lift than Murphy first thought. Although there has been Republican interest in addressing Section 232 tariffs, both this bill and its twin in the Senate, S.B. 899, have no Republican co-sponsors yet. This bill would address Sections 232 and 301 tariffs and the tariffs that were threatened under emergency powers on Mexico over migration. The bills would allow tariffs to be in place for 120 days without congressional approval.

"It is a weird world in which a pro-trade Democrat has a hard time finding a pro-trade Republican who wants to secure congressional authority and powers over incredibly important trade policy. But we continue to look for Republicans who are willing to join us on a proposal that in previous Congresses Republicans were co-sponsors of, and oftentimes author of these proposals," Murphy said during a sit-down interview with International Trade Today.

"I won't make judgments about why they are choosing not to engage, but it has been surprisingly difficult to find Republican counterpart on reclaiming congressional authority on trade," she said.

She said the best chance of success is to build a bipartisan coalition, since it's likely that any such bill would need a veto-proof majority to become law.

Murphy has not announced any Democratic co-sponsors, though her office has identified other members who would like to join. "If you too heavily frontload a bill with Democrats, it puts Republicans in the awkward position of being the first one to join a bill that looks like it's a partisan bill. And this is not a partisan issue. Reclaiming congressional authority over trade and providing necessary oversight on trade is not a partisan issue. Trade policies affect all of the economy, and affect consumers and businesses, Republican and Democrat alike," she said.

Murphy has heard from many businesses in her Orlando-area district who are suffering because of Section 301 tariffs on Chinese imports.One electronics importer, whose story she has brought to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, had to pay $250,000 on just one shipment after his goods were placed on List 3.

"He's a business that's been built over 20-some odd years. It's a hard conversation to have with him, because he's very emotional about ... basically having his business destroyed by his own government without any sort of end in sight as to when it's going to resolve and what we're trying to accomplish," she said. "For a small business, to find $250,000 to free up your products is a tough thing to do. And he's always said that he could sustain a 10 percent tariff, but that at 25 percent, his business would be in trouble. But he's one example of many. As you can imagine, that is a significant impact on businesses. And what I find really disingenuous, we all understand tariffs are a tax on American consumers and American businesses and for the administration to assert otherwise is disingenuous."

Murphy said Lighthizer just tells her that unless she agrees there's a problem with China, the pain businesses are enduring won't make sense. But Murphy said that's not the point; you can agree there's a problem with China and disagree with these tactics.

"We have opened a multi-front trade war where allies and adversaries are all treated the same," she said. "And I will tell you I have heard from our allies that there is a psychological impact of being considered a national security threat to the United States. After serving with us in times of war and after having worked with us over the years, and valuing the close relationship with the United States...."

And on the subject of trade hostilities with allies, Murphy said that although President Donald Trump put off levying tariffs on European and Japanese autos under Section 232, she cannot rule out that he would impose them in November.

"I think it would be catastrophic. What we are not acknowledging when we talk about these tariffs is that there's the immediate impact of additional costs for businesses and consumers, but there's a long-term detrimental impact of this. The rest of the world isn't just going to stop and wait for us to come back and engage with them. They are going to shift their supply chains. They are going to find new markets."