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Statement on the Importance of the Flexible Tariff.

September 24, 1929


"In my message to Congress of April 16 at the opening of the special session I gave my views as to broad principles which I felt were of importance in tariff legislation. One of the subjects I then presented was the importance of maintaining the flexible tariff. That principle was advocated over a long term of years by members of all political parties, and it was enacted in the 1922 tariff law. I advocated it at that time and since as a necessity in protection of public interest.

"The essential of the flexible tariff is that with respect to a particular [p.302] commodity, after exhaustive determination of the facts as to differences of cost of production at home and abroad by a Tariff Commission, comprised of one-half of its members from each political party, whose selection is approved by the Senate, then the President should, upon recommendation of the Commission, promulgate changes in the tariff on that commodity not to exceed 50 percent of the rates fixed by Congress. Under these provisions the President has no authority to initiate any changes in the tariff. No power rests on the Executive until after recommendations by the Commission. Any change must arise from application directly to the Commission, and his authority in the matter becomes a simple act of proclamation of the recommendations of the Commission or, on the other hand, a refusal to issue such a proclamation, amounting to a veto of the conclusions of the Commission. In no sense, therefore, can it be claimed that the President can alter the tariff at will, or that despotic power is conferred upon the Executive. It has been declared a constitutional procedure by the Supreme Court.

"The reasons for the continued incorporation of such provisions are even more cogent today than ever before. No tariff bill ever enacted has been or ever will be perfect. It will contain injustices. It is beyond human mind to deal with all of the facts surrounding several thousand commodities under the necessary conditions of legislation and not to make some mistakes and create some injustices. It could not be otherwise. Furthermore, if a perfect tariff bill were enacted the rapidity of our changing economic conditions and the constant shifting of our relations with economic life abroad would render some items in such an act imperfect in some particular within a year.

"It is proved by a half century of experience that the tariff cannot be reviewed by Congress more than once in 7 or 8 years. It is only a destruction of the principle of the flexible tariff to provide that the Tariff Commission recommendations should be made to Congress for action instead of the Executive. Any person of experience in tariff legislation in the last half century knows perfectly well that Congress cannot reopen single items of the tariff without importing discussion all along the line, without the constant unsettlement of business and the importation of contentions and factious questions to the destruction of other [p.303] important duties by Congress. Congress has literally hundreds of times in the past refused to entertain any amendment to a tariff except in periods of general revision.

"Although the provisions of the 1922 Tariff Act, as I have stated in the message, proved to be cumbersome in the method of determining costs of production and can be improved, yet despite this the agricultural industry especially received great benefits through this provision, a notable instance of which was the protection of the dairy industry. That industry would be in a sad plight today if it had not been for the increased duties given under the flexible tariff.

"The flexible provision is one of the most progressive steps taken in tariff making in all our history. It is entirely wrong that there shall be no remedy to isolated cases of injustice that may arise through the failure to adequately protect certain industries, or to destroy the opportunity to revise duties which may prove higher than necessary to protect some industries and, therefore, become onerous upon the public. To force such a situation upon the public for such long periods is, in my view, economically wrong and is prejudicial to public interest.

"I am informed the principle is supported by the most important of the farm organizations. It is supported by our leading manufacturing organizations. It is supported by labor and consumers organizations. It has never hitherto been made a political issue. In the last campaign some important Democratic leaders even advocated the increase of powers to the Tariff Commission so as to practically extinguish congressional action. I do not support such a plan.

"I have no hesitation in saying that I regard it as of the utmost importance in justice to the public; as a protection for the sound progress in our economic system, and for the future protection of our farmers and our industries and consumers, that the flexible tariff, through recommendation of the Tariff Commission to the Executive, should be maintained."

Herbert Hoover, Statement on the Importance of the Flexible Tariff. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/206980

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