- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Congress is one step closer to dealing President Biden a bipartisan rebuke with legislation to end his pause of tariffs on Chinese solar panels.

The House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday advanced a bipartisan bill to reimpose U.S. duties against solar imports from Southeast Asian countries that Chinese companies funnel their products through to skirt tariffs.

The bill’s supporters say it will punish a foreign adversary and protect domestic manufacturers.

The measure is a Congressional Review Act resolution that must receive votes in both chambers and requires only a simple majority to pass, thereby avoiding the threat of a Senate filibuster. It’s the latest effort by Republicans to force Democrats into difficult votes to dismantle Mr. Biden’s regulatory agenda.

This time, the effort is being led by one of the president’s own: Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan.

“This should not be a partisan issue,” Mr. Kildee said in a statement. “We cannot allow foreign solar manufacturers to violate trade laws, especially when it comes at the expense of American workers and businesses. By suspending tariffs on those who violate our trade laws, we are undermining our own American manufacturers and workers.”

The Ways and Means panel advanced the measure to the full House by a vote of 26-13. Mr. Kildee, who sits on the committee, was absent because he is recovering from surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his tonsil.

Signaling broader support for the legislation among Democrats, Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama broke ranks to vote with all Republicans.

“When we prioritize enforcement, we are standing up for American workers and the rules-based international trade system,” she said. “Now is a time to strengthen … our enforcement protections, not weaken them.”

The tariffs were suspended by Mr. Biden in 2022 for two years until June 2024. Since the suspension began, a Commerce Department investigation concluded that companies violated U.S. trade laws by finishing Chinese solar panels in Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Underscoring how the issue has split Democrats into dueling camps of climate hawks vs. China hawks, those who oppose reimposing tariffs say it boosts U.S. solar projects while allowing domestic manufacturers time to increase production. The White House and the solar industry have insisted the tariffs would cripple domestic projects that get 80% of their panels from the four Southeast Asian countries.

“While the Administration’s emergency order is not perfect, it is a short-term intervention that gives solar projects in the pipeline a needed bridge,” said Rep. Judy Chu, a California Democrat on Ways and Means.

Proponents of the tariffs argue they’re needed to protect American manufacturers. Republican lawmakers say the debate is another example of the White House going soft on China.

The suspension of the tariffs “has sent a signal that there will be less — not more — accountability for unfair trade practices that have given China a dominant position in solar panel production, despite longstanding American innovation in this sector,” said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith, Missouri Republican.

Recent polling also suggests a majority of Americans want the tariffs reinstated. A Morning Consult survey commissioned by the domestic manufacturing advocacy group Coalition for a Prosperous America shows 62% of likely voters want Congress to end Mr. Biden’s pause.

A full House vote has not yet been scheduled, but it is expected to occur sometime next week. Once it passes the House, the math becomes murkier in the Democratic-led Senate.

Some Senate Democrats facing tough reelection races next year, including Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, have previously urged Mr. Biden to reinstate the tariffs but have not said they will back the resolution.

It’s also unclear how Senate Energy Committee Chairman Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat who has sided with Republicans in recent efforts to roll back Mr. Biden’s environmental agenda, will handle the issue.

With Democrats’ one-seat Senate majority, Mr. Biden will likely be delivered another bipartisan snub. 

“It is a false choice to suggest that we can either choose to combat climate change or protect American manufacturers or workers,” Mr. Kildee said. “We can do both.”

• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at rtouchberry@washingtontimes.com.

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