WASHINGTON - Indignant U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday grilled Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on President Donald Trump’s multifront trade offensive, saying it risked spiraling out of control and damaging the American economy.
Pleading for an assortment of interests — from nail manufacturers in Missouri to cherry growers in Washington state — senators told Ross U.S. trade policies are alienating allies and jeopardizing U.S. livelihoods.
“Mister secretary, as you consider these tariffs, know that you are taxing American families,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
“You are putting American jobs at risk, and you are destroying markets, both foreign and domestic, for American businesses of all types, sorts and sizes.”
Hatch said Trump’s threatened tariffs of 25 percent on the auto sector would amount to a $73 billion tax increase on American consumers and endanger 200,000 jobs and $65 billion in annual auto exports.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa whose home state soybean growers are heavily dependent on exports to China, blasted the administration for pursuing “a government-run mercantilist economy as opposed to a free-market economy.”
The chorus of criticism amounted to a rare rebuke of a sitting president by the members of his own party.
Global markets have shuddered at the brinkmanship over trade between Beijing and Washington.
U.S. President Donald Trump threatened Monday to put tariffs on the vast majority of China’s exports to the United States — leaving the door open to further retaliation by China.
Ross countered that in Trump’s view, the United States was already the loser in a long-standing trade war and was only now beginning to fight back.
He said that, despite the hue and cry, Trump’s aggressive moves had pushed U.S. trading partners to combat harmful supply gluts in the metals trade.
“Suddenly Europe is enacting safeguards against steel dumping into Europe. They didn’t do much before,” he said.
“Canada is taking action. Japan for the first time has created an enforcement body … to deal with the problem.
“While they’re complaining bitterly about the tariffs, the fact is they’re starting to take the kind of action which if they had taken sooner would have prevented this crisis,” Ross said.
Grassley said Iowa soybean farmers had seen prices plummet just because of market uncertainty.
“Even if farmers don’t have to sell their physical crop right now, the sudden volatility in the market can increase the cost of hedging and in some cases require margin calls for those who are long in the market,” he said, calling on the White House to tone down threats that could provoke Chinese retaliation.
When asked what the administration would do to help cushion the blow for farmers, he said that was up to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
“I am not familiar with all the tools the secretary … ,” he said, before being swiftly interrupted by Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet.
“How can you not be familiar with them? You have come here and testified that’s how you are going to solve the issue.”