The Tariff Commission and the Flexible Tariff

May 29, 1929

Report Outline
Evolution of the Tariff Commission
Proposed Changes in Flexible System
Changes in Duties Under Flexible Tariff

The Hawley tariff bill, as passed by the House, May 28, 1929, embodied two important modifications of the flexible tariff system set up by Congress in 1922. The first of the amendments approved by the lower house -seeks to provide a less rigid method than that now in use by the United States Tariff Commission for determining whether or not particular rates of duties prescribed by Congress are subject to revision by the President. The second proposes a reorganization of the Tariff Commission to promote speedier action upon cases submitted for investigation under the flexible tariff plan.

Whenever Congress itself has undertaken a revision of tariff rates, a complete rewriting of existing schedules has followed in almost every case. Congressional revisions have taken place at intervals averaging about six years. By the flexible, tariff provisions of the Fordney-McCumber Act, the President was given authority to readjust individual duties at any time, upon a showing that changes in foreign competition made such action expedient. The modifications proposed by the pending bill are intended to make possible a more rapid and extensive use of this power of tariff revision by the President.

Proposals for Repeal of Flexible Tariff

Greater presidential freedom in the use of the flexible tariff has been advocated by many proponents of a definitely protectionist policy. It is their contention that obstacles which have developed under the 1922 legislation have blocked the fulfillment of the purposes of the plan. In other quarters, however, proposals for an enlargement of presidential authority have intensified opposition to the entire flexible tariff system. The opponents of the plan contend that the flexible system can never be made to work as a “scientific” method of tariff revision, and that the delegation to the President of broad power to alter tariff duties is an undesirable innovation in the plan of government established under the Constitution of 1789. This position was taken during the House debates by Rep. Cordell Hull, D., Tenn., member of the Ways and Means Committee, and other Democratic members, and by Rep. James M. Beck, R, Pa, former solicitor-general of the United States.

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