Congress and Tariff Policy

May 19, 1948

Report Outline
Renewal of the Trade Agreements Act
Application of Reciprocal Tariff Policy
Trade Agreements Act and I.T.O. Charter
Special Focus

Renewal of the Trade Agreements Act

Republican Attitude Toward Trade Agreements Act

For the first time since its original enactment 14 years ago, the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act, due to expire by limitation on June 12, has come up for renewal in a Republican-controlled Congress. Republicans in both Senate and House have an almost unbroken record of opposition to the act. Although they could now make that opposition effective by simply allowing the legislation to die, their leaders have chosen a different course. The bill reported by the Ways and Means Committee, after approval May 13 by the House Republican Steering Committee, limits the period of renewal to one year and imposes conditions on the authority to negotiate trade agreements that may have the practical effect of preventing conclusion of new agreements.

Republican reluctance to kill the trade agreements program outright has been attributed to recognition that such action would lay the party open to charges of economic isolationism. Because the program has gained wide public support, the Republican leadership in Congress apparently was unwilling to take that political risk in an election year. Instead, its purpose seems to have been to pass a bill which, while cutting down the President's powers, would not do so to an extent which would invite a veto.

In the latter respect the Republican leaders had an advantage, for if the renewal bill were vetoed, and the Trade Agreements Act lapsed in consequence, the administration itself would be put in the position of killing the program. It remains to be seen whether these tactics will be successful from the Republican standpoint. If some of the features of the House bill considered objectionable by advocates of the program are not removed before final passage, President Truman may decide to accept the challenge, veto the bill, and make the question a major issue in the 1948 campaign.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Congress Actions
Exports and Imports
Trade Negotiating Authority