President Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on Chinese products over the Asian superpower’s “unfair” trade practices has brought in tens of billions of dollars, prompting Republican lawmakers to propose ways to pass along the windfall to American taxpayers. U.S. Customs and Border Protection says special levies on China, known as Section 301 duties, have brought in more than $30 billion since they were imposed in July 2018 to combat Beijing’s “harmful industrial policies.” Special levies on steel, aluminum, solar panels and washing machines have reaped roughly $10 billion more from countries, including China, since early 2018, according to CBP data. Mr. Trump frequently points to those numbers to boast that his pressure tactics are paying dividends while White House and Chinese negotiators reach for an elusive trade deal. “We’re taking in billions and billions of dollars in tariffs. We’re taking in tremendous numbers in tariffs,” Mr. Trump said during a press conference last week at the United Nations in New York. Analysts say the sheer amount of revenue isn’t unprecedented but is an unusual turn of events in the post-World War II era. “We used to get most of our revenue from tariffs. But it’s very unusual because for the last 80 years tariffs have been a declining source of revenue, so this is the first time [in recent history] it’s been a rising source of revenue,” said Marc Goldwein, senior vice president at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Tariffs are taxes on imports, largely designed to promote domestic producers by making outside goods less attractive. Mr. Trump said China is “eating” the cost of his levies, but it’s complicated. Some Chinese companies may be forced to offer discounts to U.S. importers, though American-based businesses often pay the cost of the tariffs and pass it along to consumers in the form of higher prices. The price is set to rise this fall when Mr. Trump imposes a 10% tariff on $300 billion worth of additional Chinese goods. It took partial effect on Sept. 1 but won’t be fully implemented by mid-December to avoid ripples during the Christmas shopping season. Analysts at JPMorgan Chase estimated that the average American family could face up to $1,000 more in annual costs once the levies are in place because the tariffs are starting to hit popular consumer goods. China, meanwhile, has retaliated with trade moves and tariffs of its own, hurting farmers in particular. While Mr. Trump is using some of the incoming duties to bail out the agricultural sector, some Senate Republicans say all Americans should get relief. Sen. Rick Scott, Florida Republican, has been meeting with the White House on a proposal that would pass along tariff revenue in the form of tax cuts. “Sen. Scott supports the president’s efforts to get tough on China, but any revenue brought into the federal government should be returned to the taxpayers,” Scott spokeswoman Sarah Schwirian said. Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, filed legislation last week that would gather tariff revenue and give it to working-class taxpayers in the form of a rebate check that arrives several months after tax-filing season. “Tariffs are an effective way to apply pressure to China and other nations in trade negotiations, but there’s no reason that tariff revenue can’t help working Americans in the process,” Mr. Cotton said. U.S. adults who are citizens or legal residents, file federal taxes and earn less than $84,200 as individual filers or $168,400 as joint filers would be eligible for rebate checks. The plan starts with a special rebate check for calendar years 2017 and 2018 — mailed within 90 days of enactment — and would establish a recurring annual rebate for eligible filers as long as money is pouring in from what are known as Section 201, 232 and 301 duties. According to Mr. Cotton’s office, the rebates would be a good way to shore up political support for the U.S. crackdown on China while protecting Americans against any price increases resulting from tariffs. The White House hasn’t weighed in yet — the bill was just released — though Mr. Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, has voiced support for Mr. Scott’s push to offer tax cuts equal to the amount the U.S. collects in tariffs. Mr. Scott’s spokeswoman said the senator plans to put forward a formal proposal in the coming weeks.
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