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Time for some straight talk about tariffs


Senators often show up just to make an appearance, so I didn’t expect the late Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) to stay at the hearing in 2014 on the dense subject of bank ownership of commodities like aluminum. It was, however, Senator Carl Levin’s (D-Michigan) last hearing before retiring, and Senator Levin’s cross-examination skills immediately captivated Senator McCain. The witness dodged and weaved to avoid admitting the obvious.  When Senator Levin took a moment to look at his notes, Senator McCain asked if he could say something. Senator Levin agreed in a departure from usual hearing protocol. Senator McCain looked right at the witness and said, “Sir, you’d better work on a better story, because that one is ridiculous.” Straight talk indeed.

On the day Senator McCain lies in state at the US Capitol, I’m going up on Capitol Hill to argue about aluminum issues again. Tariffs on aluminum, imposed in the name of national security, are raising the costs to brewers and other American businesses. The Administration is in negotiations with two of our closest allies, Mexico and Canada, insisting they accept quotas on imports of both aluminum and steel.  The goal is to protect five old, energy-inefficient smelters with the ultimate cost borne by U.S. businesses and consumers.

As we consider Senator McCain’s legacy, we could use more of his straight talk right now. Every action leads to an equal and opposite reaction.  Businesses and consumers pay the cost of tariffs, not the government. Tariffs designed to prop up one domestic industry that is in decline only hurts other domestic industries, like the beer industry, which supports more than 2.2 million good-paying, American jobs—from farming to manufacturing. Even when tariffs are designed to protect jobs, they ultimately put more jobs at risk than they protect.

Senator McCain was a straight talker and a great statesman. We could use a straight talker and a statesman right now. Senator McCain, I wish you fair winds and following seas.