Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-VA) today announced that he has reintroduced 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 the functions and responsibilities of the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). This would be in accordance with Article I, Section 8 of our Constitution, which 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 U.S.)” and that “imports from a foreign country are foreign commerce subject to regulation, so far as this country is concerned, by Congress alone (U.S. v. Guy W. Capps, Inc.).”
Griffith said, “Members of Congress have historically had primary responsibility for compiling and proposing reductions/suspensions of import duties, but over the last century, Congress has increasingly ceded authority for negotiating trade deals and import duties to the United States Trade Representative. This change in the process limits accountability. Without congressional input, trade agreements are less likely to serve broad national interests. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is an example of what can happen with the flawed current process.”
“Imagine, if you will, that the office of the United States Trade Representative is a tree. My bill would simply establish a plan to dig up the tree, roots and all, from the White House lawn, transport it a few blocks up the road, and replant it in the grounds of the United States Capitol. This isn’t about partisan politics or any particular trade deal, but rather is about exercising Congress’s constitutional responsibilities when it comes to trade issues. This is in line with where the Founding Fathers intended commerce – trade, in other words – with foreign nations to be rooted, and I believe it would make the United States Trade Representative more responsive to American people and businesses.”
Under Griffith’s bill, the transfer to the legislative branch of the functions and responsibilities of the USTR would need to be done within four years after the Joint Ad Hoc Committee’s final report, or by July 1, 2021, whichever is later. Additionally, the 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.