Tariffs do not work. This is clear to anybody who understands math or history. That did not stop President Trump from slapping high tariffs on assorted products from various countries. Many predicted that Trump’s tariffs would be harmful to those they intended to help. Now we have proof that they were right. The Administration is preparing to send roughly $12 billion in emergency aid to farmers who have been hurt by Trump’s trade policies.
As bad as Trump’s policies are and predictable as all this was, the worst part of this is Congress’s abdication of its Constitutional authority to the executive branch in this area and their apparent unwillingness to do anything about it. Any law overriding any increase in tariffs would be vetoed, rendering Congress impotent in the face of a unilaterally tariff-raising President- a process that flips the constitutional order upside down.
Congress has a long and history of delegating its functions to the executive branch. This has had many consequences including the increasing of tremendous power in the hands of the executive. As a result the country has a multiyear presidential campaign every four years where we are consistently told by presidential candidates “that this is the most important election in our lifetime.” If the President did not have so much power, then every election would not be the most important election in our lifetime.
The (Further) Downside
Congressional abdication yields other negative side effects, aside from the never-ending campaign cycle. There is a feeling in this country among people, whether they consider themselves a Bernie Bro or wear a MAGA hat, that regardless of who is in office, nothing seems to change. Low congressional approval ratings are as American as baseball and apple pie on the Fourth of July. Part of this is because the executive branch has taken an ever-increasing role in legislating. A congressman or senator from one of the states heavily affected by Trump’s tariffs can now point to the executive branch as the reason for the state’s economic troubles that could have been prevented and claim that they had nothing to do with it.
Instead of saying “Vote for me and I’ll vote to get rid of these tariffs,” the best a politician can do is say “Vote for me and I’ll stand up to Trump (or Obama, or whomever).” By “standing up,” they mean, giving speeches on the Senate floor or interviews to CNN, not actually repealing any tariffs. By delegating power to the executive, those sent to Washington to represent the people are able to duck responsibility. After all, they’re just one out of 100 senators or 435 representatives and one member cannot expect to fight the entire bureaucratic apparatus of the executive branch.
Congress may not like Trump’s tariffs, but they have no one to blame but themselves. By abdicating its legislative powers to the executive, Congress has done more to damage the separation of powers than any President or bureaucrat, who is only going to use Congress to legitimate their decisions. With Trump, Congress may finally be realizing that they have made a mistake in doing this.