The White House plan to provide aid to farmers hit by tariffs — as well as the president's ability to pit the U.S. in an international trade war — is evidence that the president has too much power, Rep. Jeb Hensarling said Wednesday.
The Texas Republican, who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said that he disagrees with a new plan to provide $12 billion in bailout relief to farmers and ranchers.
"A tariff is a tax. We have a policy now that is taxing the American consumer and then bailing out U.S. farmers with welfare. I don't get it, I don't agree with it," Hensarling, who is not seeking re-election, said in an interview at CNBC's Capital Exchange breakfast series in Washington, D.C. "Congress after Congress has shoveled more power out of Article I of the Constitution into Article II. And then we throw up our hands and say, 'Gee, I didn't know he had all this power! How can he just do this?'"
"I thought Barack Obama had too much power. I think that Donald Trump has too much power and I think Congress needs to reassert their authority. Last I read the Constitution, it's Congress that has the authority over tariffs," he added.
Hensarling did say the president deserves the bulk of the credit for the current strong economy but he wished Trump wasn't undermining it with tough trade tactics.
"For most Americans, they have the best economy of their lifetimes, and I believe it is principally due to one man, President Donald Trump, and a global trade war threatens all of that prosperity," he said.
The debate on the balance of power between Capitol Hill and the White House is not new in Washington, dogging both Obama as well as his successor as the new administration attempts to force economic partners like China into more favorable trade agreements. However, the new U.S. taxes on foreign steel and aluminum, as well as other tariffs on goods from China, have sparked retaliatory actions in turn.
China and the European Union have both beefed up levies on American exports like soybeans and whiskey, products produced in key Republican electoral districts. The announcement of the farm relief plan came hours after the president proclaimed on Twitter that "Tariffs are the greatest!" The aid will be facilitated by the Commodity Credit Corp., an agency set up during the Great Depression, and will not require congressional approval.
The aggressive trade policies have isolated a swath of Republicans committed to a more traditional GOP position of free trade and open markets.
"The answer I’d like to see is the ability of Americans to export more, not import less," Hensarling added. "But again, that’s not what we saw in Korea. In Korea, we saw the imposition of a quota and an extension of a 20-year tariff. That is not helping American consumers, it’s not helping American businesses, it’s not the helping steel producers in the Fifth District of Texas who take imported steel and fabricated it into either shelving or steel buildings."
Hoping to reassert Congress' authority over the tariffs that Trump imposed, top Republican Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., have led the charge in trying to curb the power of the executive branch.
In a symbolic rebuke earlier this month, the Senate voted 88-11 on a nonbinding motion to instruct members negotiating on an appropriations bill with the House to include language that would give lawmakers the ability to curb Trump's tariff powers. The motion, however, required neither Congress nor the president to take a specific action.
Earlier, both Corker and Flake, another harsh critic of Trump's trade policy, called Wednesday's motion a "first step" toward curbing the president's powers. Corker and Flake also aren't seeking re-election this year.