The tariffs President Donald Trump imposed in March have generated $582 million from steel imports and $195 million from aluminum as of last week, and the combined total is expected to top $1 billion within the next six weeks, according to the Commerce Department.
While Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross defended the tariffs at a Senate Finance Committee hearing Wednesday as a necessary action to protect U.S. manufacturers that’s already brought about the re-opening of steel plants, senators criticized the duties as the wrong approach that draw harmful retaliation, hurt the American economy and businesses with higher costs.
“As you consider these tariffs, know that you are taxing American families, you are putting American jobs at risk, and you are destroying markets -- both foreign and domestic -- for American businesses of all types, sorts and sizes,” Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the panel’s chairman, told Ross.
Senators also criticized the process for seeking product exclusions from the tariffs, which allow a refund of duties paid. The Commerce Department has been flooded with more than 22,500 requests, but only 44 percent have been posted so far and the department just announced its first rulings.
“America’s small businesses believe they are being held hostage in a bureaucratic twilight zone, waiting to see if they’re going to escape,” Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the panel’s top Democrat, said during the hearing.
Trump imposed 25 percent tariffs on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum in March on grounds of national security. He’s separately pursuing duties on billions of dollars in Chinese imports in response to allegations of intellectual property theft and unfair trade practices.
On Wednesday night, Trump said "One thing no one talks about are the money pouring into the treasury. These tariffs are billions and billions of dollars."
Companies can win product exclusions from the metal tariffs after requests are posted online for 30 days for any objections if the needed raw material is not produced in the U.S. in a sufficient amount or quality, or for a specific national security reason.
As of Monday, there were 20,000 exclusion requests on steel duties with almost 1,800 objections posted, and 2,500 aluminum filings with about 50 objections posted. But more than 9,500 total requests and almost 2,000 objections are still pending for review, according to the Commerce Department.
Ross announced Wednesday that 42 steel requests had been granted to seven companies while 56 from 11 different companies were rejected, and he promised changes to accelerate the process after lawmakers and business groups complained. They include immediately granting a request if it is properly submitted and no objections are received.
But Ross said based on what officials have seen so far, “there is a high probability that relatively few of those will be granted” because many lack substance or have well-grounded objections posted against them.
Hatch said companies have complained that some objections contain misleading claims with no formal channel to submit rebuttals. He said the process has “many serious flaws.”
Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri said the process is overly cumbersome for small businesses getting hammered by the duties. She pointed to Mid Continent Nail Corp. in Poplar Bluff, which she said has lost almost half of its business and let go 60 of its 500 workers.
“It appears to me that in a chaotic and frankly incompetent manner, you’re picking winners and losers on very technical basis,” McCaskill told Ross.
Ross said his department got the company’s exclusion request only two days ago, and that Trump was taking action that has been long needed.
“This administration is standing up for American families, American businesses and American workers by taking action to reduce imports that threaten our national security,” Ross said.