Granted, this site and much of the work that I do, has come about due to America’s general ignorance about our Constitution.  However, sometimes the level of ignorance, especially from those who have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution, just takes my breath away!

Senate Non-Binding Resolution for Greater Role in Tariffs.

Recently I’ve been reading and hearing about what is described as “a Senate vote for a greater role in tariffs”, “an overwhelming rebuke of [President] Trump over tariffs”, and even the Senate “pushing back on Trump”.  While the enthusiasm for what is an effectively meaningless vote is annoying, what I find truly breathtaking is the fecklessness of a congressional body that has to have a non-binding resolution to ask a conference committee to include language in a bill to give Congress a power it already has!


So several Senators want to pass legislation to require Congress to approve tariffs.  How about using the U.S. Constitution?

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises,

U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 8, Paragraph 1

The very first power granted to Congress is the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts. and excises.  But wait, you ask, is there anything in the Constitution about tariffs?

Definition of tariff
1 a : a schedule of duties imposed by a government on imported or in some countries exported goods

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Since a tariff is simply a schedule or list of duties to be imposed, it is Congress, not the President, who has the power to impose them and collect them.  There is no exception for “national security” or any other reason.

And what is the response to this violation of separation of powers and blatant infringement on the role of Congress?  The Senate passes a non-binding resolution asking their members of a conference committee (a group from both the House and the Senate, who work out differences between legislation passed in both houses) to include language to give them the power that the Constitution has already given them.

It is possible that Congress had passed a law allowing the President to impose certain tariffs without approval from them, but then it would be their fault for passing an unconstitutional law in the first place.  All they would have to do is pass legislation rescinding the law giving the President this unconstitutional power.  If Congress truly wanted to use their power to approve these new tariffs, all they would have to do is pass legislation prohibiting any appropriated funds from being used to enforce any of these illegal tariffs.  If the President vetos the legislation, simply override it.  If the Senate can pass a non-binding resolution 88-11, do you think they could get 67 Senators to stand up for their authority?  Is it too much to ask Congress to uphold their oaths of office and follow the Constitution?

My Conclusion

Ignore the hype, both from the media and from the politicians.  This is a move of a neutered institution, a phony act of bravado that tries to make them look more powerful than they are.  The sad part is Congress does have the power to control tariffs, they are just unwilling to use it.  Remember that the next time you choose your elected representatives.  Maybe if we held them to a higher standard, they would do their jobs rather than stomping around trying to get attention for doing nothing.

Author: Paul Engel

Paul Engel founded The Constitution Study in 2014 with the goal of helping everyday Americans read and understand their Constitution. Author, blogger, podcaster and speaker, Paul writes and podcasts at You can also find his books at

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