When protectionism is not about protecting America at all

Next, and soon, will come a government decision about the problem, as our protectors see it, of menacingly inexpensive steel imports, concerning which the administration is pretending to deliberate. The charade of thinking will end with the imposition of yet more steel tariffs/taxes, joining the 149 (some as high as 266 percent) already targeting many of the more than 110 countries and territories from which the United States imports steel. Twenty-four of the existing duties target Chinese steel, which is less than 3 percent of U.S. steel imports. America’s supposedly embattled steel industry is producing more than it did during World War II, and every year in this decade more than 10 percent of U.S.-made steel goods has been exported.

Imposition of the new tariffs/taxes will be done solely by the president, exercising discretion granted to presidents by various laws, including one passed in December 1974, when Congress evidently thought that Watergate, then fresh in memory, had taught that presidents were not sufficiently imperial. Then, as now, Congress seemed to think it had more important things to do than set trade policy.