‘The Principles Should Endure.’ Sen. Pat Toomey on Fusionism, Tariffs, and What’s To Blame for FTX’s Collapse.
It was a fitting final week of session for U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R–Pa.), who is heading into retirement after two terms in the upper chamber.
Toomey’s final floor speech was a warning about how Congress has abdicated its role in setting trade policy, and how doing so has allowed the executive branch to erect new barriers to the free movement of goods across American borders—a battle Toomey has been fighting, unsuccessfully, against each of the past two presidential administrations. His final significant vote was a “no” on the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill that, nevertheless, passed Congress with bipartisan support.
Toomey’s tenure, which began in 1999 when he won a congressional seat in eastern Pennsylvania and will officially end on January 3 when the new Senate session begins, serves as a useful illustration of the rise and fall of a certain kind of conservative sensibility in Washington.
Toomey was described in a 2004 New Yorker profile as “a conservative Republican of rigorous doctrinal purity: anti-abortion, anti-taxes, anti-spending (except for defense); a fiscal hawk, appalled by big deficits, a crusader for school choice, tort reform, Social Security privatization, and a smaller federal government.” He’s still that guy, but the Republican Party is no longer what it once was—and Toomey declined to run for re-election this year, rather than face an inevitable primary challenge after years of challenging former President Donald Trump’s trade policies and voting to convict Trump in his second impeachment.
Toomey sat down with Reason last week for an exit interview about his tenure in Congress, the status of fusionism within the conservative movement, and the right way for the federal government to approach cryptocurrency regulation.
Reason: Senator, let’s start with what you spoke about on the Senate floor yesterday—possibly the final time that you’ll do that—in regard to the Biden administration’s plans to impose to use Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act to tax imports based on their carbon emissions. In the past, you’ve condemned the Trump administration’s use of Section 232 to unilaterally impose tariffs. Is Biden now building on what Trump had done?
Toomey: The Biden administration has apparently studied closely at the knee of Donald Trump to learn about trade policy. It’s been a complete continuation of protectionism, and now it’s taking the abuse and the misuse of the Section 232 provision to a new extreme.
The Trump administration clearly and blatantly abused this because they invoked national security when there was no national security risk as a result of the modest levels of steel and aluminum we were importing from our allies. Now, the Biden administration—after keeping the 232 tariffs in place despite the president having campaigned against Donald Trump’s trade policies—is putting it on steroids. It’s effectively a border adjustment with respect to steel and aluminum, based on carbon emissions. This is wildly incompatible with what Section 232 actually says. It is a grotesque overreach by the Biden administration, and this is exactly what I’ve been warning my colleagues of for quite some time now.
If Congress just allows executives to run over Congress on an area of policy that the Constitution unambiguously assigns to Congress, then some executives will take the opportunity to just keep running. That’s what we have here. There is absolutely no congressional input whatsoever on this fundamental question of how and to what extent and how quickly we transition to a lower-carbon economy. And that is obviously a question of such magnitude that it has to be addressed legislatively. It’s a terrible abuse of power.
Reason: The counterpoint to that would be that Congress delegated these powers to the executive branch and could take them back at any time, or clarify how the “national security” aspect of the law should be understood.
Toomey: There’s a very simple and elegant solution to this, and that’s the legislation that I’ve introduced. It’s bipartisan. We have quite a number of co-sponsors. It says: When a president wants to use Section 232 as a justification for imposing trade restrictions, he needs to make the proposal to Congress and win an affirmative vote in both houses of Congress. If he does, then that’s the consent that Congress is obligated to either provide or withhold. That would give Congress the final say.
If Congress wants the president to take this wildly expansive view of 232, then Congress could make that decision—but at least there would be an accountability mechanism on the part of Congress. That’s what the constitution requires.
Reason: There’s been a lot of debate, for years, about whether Trump was a cause or a symptom of some of the upheaval that his ad
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