Senators Ask White House Economists to Turn Over Tariff Findings

Posted June 14, 2018 2:19 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — Two senators have asked President Donald Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers to turn over an analysis that shows the administration’s tariffs would slow economic growth.

The internal analysis, first reported by The New York Times last week, contradicts the public statements of several Trump administration officials who have said that Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on aluminum, steel and a broad array of Chinese products will not dampen economic growth. The existence of such a study has raised questions about whether the Trump administration is pursuing policies that its own experts know is at odds with economic reality.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., sent a letter to Kevin Hassett, chairman of the council, asking him to hand over any research on tariffs by June 27. The two senators, who sent the letter Wednesday, lead the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

“To better understand the potential consequences of the administration’s trade policies, we respectfully request that you produce the CEA economic analysis relating to the administration’s steel and aluminum tariffs and all supporting data and documents,” they wrote.

The council does not publicly release all of its research, and it is not clear how much damage it estimates the tariffs and potential retaliation from other countries would do to the administration’s economic growth projections. Trump has made achieving sustainable 3 percent economic growth a centerpiece of his agenda.

Hassett has dodged the question when asked about it in public settings, suggesting that the threat of tariffs will encourage other countries to lower their trade barriers and therefore boost global economic growth.

“If you model a future where everybody else reduces their trade barriers to ours, then that’s massively good for the global economy and massively good for the U.S. economy,” Hassett said last week.

Gary D. Cohn, the former director of Trump’s National Economic Council, said at an event hosted by The Washington Post on Thursday that he was already seeing signs that companies were holding back on investment out of fears of a trade war. He said that tit-for-tat tariffs could negate the economic benefits of Trump’s tax cuts.

“If you end up with a tariff battle, you will end up with price inflation, you could end up with more consumer debt, those are all historic ingredients for an economic slowdown,” Cohn said.

On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell acknowledged anecdotal concern about business investment slowing as a result of the tariffs but said, so far, the Fed had no data to support that.

“We really don’t see it in the numbers,” he said. “I would put it down as more of a risk.”

A CEA spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the Senate request.