Trade Views of New Additions to Key Committees in the 114th Congress

Stephanie Henry

Trade Views of New Additions to Key Committees in the 114th Congress

Key House and Senate committees involved in implementing the US trade agenda are taking shape in the 114th Congress, and will play an important role in the work ahead. New members of Congress in the House gained posts on key committees having jurisdiction over trade and foreign affairs issues, while several new and returning Senators will take new posts on the Senate Foreign Relations and Finance Committees. USCBC is providing a review of new members on key committees and their likely positions on trade issues, as these members will be important to engage with on the issues in the upcoming year.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) saw a change in leadership this year with the chairmanship of Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), a strong advocate for US-China trade issues. Three new Republicans were also added to the ranks, including freshman Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and David Perdue (R-GA), as well as returning Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA).

Though there are fewer resources to draw from to determine newly-elected officials’ views on China specifically, past statements and issue positions provide some indication of their views on trade. In his prior role as a Congressman representing Colorado’s 4th District, Gardner opposed renewal of the US Export-Import Bank (“Ex-Im Bank”), which provides financing for purchases of US goods by foreign buyers, including China. On trade issues broadly, Gardner has been supportive of trade-opening measures. He called for greater access to international markets in the TPP agreement, and voted in favor of the Colombia, Panama, and Korea trade agreements. Gardner’s colleague on SFRC, newly-elected Senator David Perdue (R-GA), has a strong business background, formerly serving as the CEO for Dollar General. Perdue has said that much of what the company sells in the United States is sourced from overseas markets, and that under his tenure, the company opened up a new office in Hong Kong. Perdue also served as a consultant for companies seeking to import footwear from Asian markets, and served in high-level capacities with other notable brands, including Reebok and Sara Lee. This strong business background suggests Perdue could be a strong advocate for international trade and the bilateral commercial relationship with China.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) has a mixed record on China trade issues, between his tenure in the House (1999-2005) and Senate. Isakson voted to pass the 2011 Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act, which would have enabled the US government to impose tariffs on China’s imports on the basis of its currency valuation. USCBC was—and remains—active in its opposition to the bill and similar measures taken up by Congress since 2011. At the same time, Isakson has voiced his opposition to China’s imposition of duties on US poultry, and supported China’s entry to the World Trade Organization.

Senate Finance Committee
The Senate Finance Committee welcomed three new members under the tenure of Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT): Dan Coats (R-IN), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Tim Scott (R-SC). Scott, Heller, and Coats have each shown their support for trade issues broadly, voting in favor of the Korea, Panama, and Colombia trade agreements. Scott and Coats both voted to renew the Ex-Im Bank’s charter in 2014. On China specifically, Heller was vocal in his opposition to the 2011 currency bill, warning that the bill could spark a trade war with China and impose burdensome costs on consumers.   

House Ways and Means Committee
The House Ways and Means Committee will be chaired by Paul Ryan (R,WI-1) and its subcommittee on trade will be chaired by Pat Tiberi (R, OH-12), both of whom are supporters of free trade. The trade subcommittee will add returning House members Rep. Bill Pascrell (D, NJ-9), Rep. Xavier Becerra (D, CA-34), and Rep. Eric Paulsen (R, MN-3). All three members have served on the full committee but are new to the trade subcommittee. The Ways and Means Committee will also see several other additions to the committee, none of whom are freshman: Rep. Kristi Noem (R, SD-At Large), Rep. Jason Smith (R, MO-8), Rep. George Holding (R, NC-13), and Rep. Patrick Meehan (R, PA-7).

The incoming Democratic trade subcommittee members have a mixed record on trade, and generally poor record on China. While Becerra has noted China is an important trade partner, he has been critical of China’s exchange rate policy. When the House considered the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act in 2010, Becerra was supportive of the measure. Becerra also voted against the Colombia trade agreement, and in support of the Korea and Panama trade agreements. His new colleague on the trade subcommittee, Rep. Pascrell, also voted to pass the currency bill, but was supportive of the Panama trade agreement. Pascrell abstained from the Korea vote, and voted against the Colombia bill. In contrast, new Republican subcommittee member Rep. Paulsen has a stronger record on China and trade issues, voting against the 2010 currency bill and in support of all three trade agreements. Paulsen is also a member of the House China Working Group, and traveled to China with the working group in 2011. 

House Foreign Affairs Committee
The House Foreign Affairs Committee has added several new members and had a notable change in leadership of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. The appointment of returning Congressman Matt Salmon (R, AZ-5) as Chair of the subcommittee could mean renewed focus on US-China trade within the committee. Salmon speaks Chinese and has made frequent visits to China. He has been supportive of strong engagement with China, and has said that he wants “to be seen as someone who wants to work with China.” During his earlier tenure in the House from 1995-2001, Salmon supported China’s entry into the WTO.