Stoughton, Wis. — Members of the House select committee on China spent Wednesday afternoon at a trailer manufacturing plant outside Madison wrestling with tough questions about China’s trade practices. Their next stop? New York.
The roundtable event at Stoughton Trailers is one of a few the committee has planned over the congressional recess to help guide legislative recommendations on how to adjust U.S. economic policy to outgun China. That includes considering ways to penalize China for actions like dumping and intellectual property theft, boost trade with allies, incentivize American industries, and curtail U.S. investment in critical technologies in China.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., the committee’s top Democrat, told Semafor the panel is planning an event in New York City in the coming weeks that will touch on the last topic.
The committee’s chairman, Mike Gallagher, R-Wis. told Semafor they intend to finish a report containing recommendations by the end of the year.
The location of Wednesday’s event was a Wisconsin semi-trailer company that in 2020 won an anti-dumping case against China over its subsidy of a Chinese manufacturing company, China International Marine Containers. The Commerce Department imposed tariffs on U.S. imports of Chinese-made chassis in 2021.
“Their Chinese competitors were selling products into the U.S. for less than the cost of the raw materials used to produce them,” Gallagher said in opening remarks. “That’s not fair competition in any meaningful sense. That’s an economic disease that’s eaten away at the fabric of our communities here for decades.”
Since the ruling, Stoughton has gone on a hiring spree and expanded operations to Texas. But the company’s president, Bob Wahlin, told lawmakers Wednesday that the Chinese manufacturer was already getting around the tariffs by shifting some of its assembly to Thailand.
Concern about China is one of the rare areas of consensus in Washington these days. The Stoughton event was far removed from talk about impeaching President Biden. The most divisive topic raised was the lawmakers’ NFL allegiances (Gallagher is a Packers fan, Krishnamoorthi favors the Bears fan).
“If you go back 25 years in the Congress, we used to have three disparate groups,” Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., another member of the committee who attended the roundtable, told me. “You had human rights hawks, you had economic hawks, you had national security hawks. They’ve all found each other now. And they’ve put aside philosophical differences. Now it’s working together to counteract China.”
The event also reminded me that the wariness of China extends to other parts of the country, too: the roundtable brought together a wide range of businesses, from trailer and solar manufacturing companies to ship builders, as well as a local United Steelworkers president. They all hammered away at Beijing.
But just because they agree on the problem, doesn’t mean that Democrats and Republicans will easily find consensus on the solutions.
Krishnamoorthi pointed to workforce development as an area ripe for action to give U.S. workers a leg up, but acknowledged Republicans might not be as willing to spend money towards boosting vocational education.
“I think we should increase resources. We should spend more money,” he said.
Meanwhile, LaHood predicted lawmakers would disagree on the future use of subsidies. He invoked the Inflation Reduction Act, the massive climate bill passed along party lines in the last Congress, as an example of Democrats mimicking China.
“From my point of view, that’s government putting their thumb on the scales of what industry should be subsidizing,” he said. “I think that’s more like China than we’re accustomed to as more free market conservative Republicans.”
Krishnamoorthi also dinged those on the right for threatening a government shutdown over appropriations levels, arguing it would play into China’s hands. “This is the type of dysfunction that the CCP loves,” he said, referring to China’s ruling communist party.