President Biden spent the campaign rightly criticizing President Trump’s tariffs for harming consumers and businesses. But now, the Biden administration is taking ownership of Trump’s tariffs on Americans who import goods from China.
That’s a big disappointment. During the campaign, President Biden was asked: “Would you keep the China tariffs?” His reply: “No. Hey look, who said Trump’s idea’s a good one?”
Similarly, in her debate with Mike Pence, Vice President Kamala Harris argued: “The Vice President earlier referred to what he thinks is an accomplishment, the President’s trade war with China. You lost it. What ended up happening is because of a so-called trade war with China, America lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs. Farmers have experienced bankruptcy because of it. We are in a manufacturing recession because of it.”
Other Democrats echoed this view. During a House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee hearing, Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) told U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer: “I am concerned that the current approach you have taken has done more damage to American consumers and businesses than they have in making any changes in China. After all, tariffs are taxes on American consumers and businesses.”
These statements accurately reflect the views of mainstream Democratic voters. For example, a 2020 Morning Consult survey found that 65 percent of Democrats thought that raising tariffs on Chinese exports to the United States would hurt lower-class Americans, and 59 percent thought tariffs would hurt the middle class.
Moreover, maintaining Trump’s tariffs violates the spirit, at the very least, of President Biden’s promise to not increase taxes on Americans making less than $400,000. One could argue that technically this should not count as a tax increase, since he is just keeping Trump’s tariffs in place as opposed to imposing new tariffs. But those tariffs undeniably hit Americans who make less than $400,000, and President Biden has the power to remove them. Certainly, any new tariffs imposed by the Biden administration would violate his pledge.
The Biden administration’s embrace of ineffective and costly tariffs provides a golden opportunity for Republicans to seize the high ground on trade policy. After all, when Ronald Reagan won 49 states in his landslide 1984 reelection, he was running on a platform that included this:
“We are committed to a free and open international trading system. All Americans benefit from the free flow of goods, services and capital, and the efficiencies of a vigorous international market. We will work with all of our international trading partners to eliminate barriers to trade, both tariff and non-tariff.”
In recent years Republicans were largely silent about trade policy as they deferred to President Trump. Today, with regressive tariffs being backed by Joe Biden and the Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party, it would be wise for the GOP to offer Americans a smarter, pro-trade alternative.