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OPINION: There's no time for passivity on tariffs

Tim Bjorkman

South Dakota's number one industry is agriculture, and its success is vital to our small towns and our state's future. The ag economy was already soft going into planting season, so the timing of the president's tariffs on steel and aluminum, imposed under a law authorizing him to act where our nation's security is at risk, only made matters worse.

Our trading partners responded predictably — by placing retaliatory tariffs on our commodities like corn, soybeans, beef, pork, wheat, and sorghum — almost all of the ag products that we raise here in South Dakota.

While it's important that we combat trade violations, we must also do it right: in a deliberate, thorough, and methodical manner. And keep this in mind: the Constitution grants only Congress — not the president — the authority to impose tariffs.

For months now, I have called on our congressional delegation to support legislation restoring the Constitution's requirement that any president must obtain congressional approval before imposing tariffs.

Our state's delegation now agree with me that these tariffs are harming our economy and costing South Dakota farmers and ranchers "hundreds of millions of dollars that they could not afford to lose." So what did they do about it? They wrote the president a mildly worded letter warning him of the danger of imposing tariffs and asking him to reevaluate them.

That's weak. Think about it: our producers have lost hundreds of millions of dollars, and our congressional delegation's response is ... a letter.

But the response from Dusty Johnson, the Republican nominee for South Dakota's lone House seat, was even more passive. Dusty also agrees that tariffs are bad for South Dakota. He's just not willing to stand up for us to oppose them. He says that while "it's important for Congress to have oversight over the executive branch's actions," he thinks the president should maintain authority over trade negotiations: "Injecting more congressional involvement, at least at this time, is going to inject more politics into it," Johnson said.

It's hard to know what oversight Dusty envisions Congress could have over a president who can impose tariffs on his own. And does Dusty really believe that when Congress exercises a constitutionally granted power it's playing politics?

This is no time for passivity, hollow words, or hand-wringing politicians. The framers established Congress as the people's branch of government, and it's time for leaders of conviction to restore the constitutional checks and balances they intended. If a candidate for Congress is not willing to act on the constitutional authority the framers granted to Congress, he likely won't be the strong independent voice South Dakota needs and deserves.

South Dakota's rural communities may soon be in crisis if we don't act now. Our congressional delegation — and anyone who seeks to join it — need to act as if real people's economic lives are at stake.

Because they are.

Tim Bjorkman

Democratic candidate for South Dakota's at-large congressional seat