U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) Thursday pointed to charts provided by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a hearing on tariffs that confirm what local manufacturers have told her: steel and aluminum prices have already increased ahead of the tariffs set to take effect tomorrow.
“This is about jobs in my district,” said Congresswoman Walorski to Secretary Ross, who testified before the Ways and Means Committee. “You say this chart says that the RV industry will be fine. With all due respect, this chart cannot speak, but the RV manufacturers in my district can. What they and other manufacturers in my district have been telling me over the last year is that while tariffs take effect tomorrow, the mere threat of tariffs has been felt already.”
Secretary Ross testified before the full Ways and Means Committee about the tariffs on steel and aluminum set to take effect Friday. Congresswoman Walorski last week led 15 of her Ways and Means colleagues in sending a letter to Secretary Ross urging retroactive relief for companies that successfully petition for product exclusions from the tariffs.
In a hearing on Wednesday, Walorski pressed U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ambassador Robert Lighthizer on the administration’s response to threats of retaliatory tariffs that could harm American farmers, manufacturers, and other small businesses.
Walorski previously sent a letter to President Trump expressing concerns with his tariff proposal and sharing feedback from local manufacturers. She also signed a letter, along with 106 of her House Republican colleagues, urging the president to target unfair trade practices rather than impose blanket tariffs.
Video of Walorski questioning Ross at today’s hearing is available here. A transcript of their exchange is below.
REP. WALORSKI: It’s an honor, Secretary, to have you here. I want to talk about the graph that you referenced earlier, and I’m grateful that you included the RV industry in this. You say this chart says that the RV industry will be fine. With all due respect, this chart cannot speak, but the RV manufacturers in my district can. What they and other manufacturers in my district have been telling me over the last year is that while tariffs take effect tomorrow, the mere threat of tariffs has been felt already.
One RV manufacturer told me that the same model is 8.5 percent more expensive compared to last year. A trailer manufacturer has had to raise prices 25 to 30 percent. He told me on the phone, “I’m livid. We are getting destroyed.” He said the tariffs haven’t started, but they’ve been felt.
I can’t tell you how many manufacturers have told me about steel and aluminum shortages already. I can’t tell you how many manufacturers who already source their steel and aluminum domestically, who we shouldn’t want to hurt, but have seen the price of their inputs increase anyway. Again, the tariffs start tomorrow, but they’ve already been felt in these industries.
I’ve heard from manufacturers that source from abroad – not because they want to, it’s because they are forced to. The domestic suppliers simply refuse to make the input for their specifications. What ever happened to the customer is always right? Well those business owners are now worried that the very same supplier that refused to make their product to specs in the last year now only needs to say that they could make it to prevent an exclusion, hurting these industries further.
Here’s the thing: the RVs, boats, and trailers manufactured in my district are price-sensitive. An 8.5 percent increase in the price of an RV is real money to real people. A couple looking at that increase may say, well, we’re going to wait, or we’ll simply go spend the money on something else. For pontoon boats, a 10-cent increase in aluminum increases the boat cost by $750, so a company that normally sells 2,000 pontoons would only be able to sell 400 with that increase, and pontoons are already on the EU retaliation list.
Elkhart County saw 20 percent unemployment during the financial crisis. It was devastating for workers, families, companies, and communities. But they’ve rebounded, and unemployment is around 2 percent right now. But they’re worried that the momentum that they worked so hard to claw back is about to be reversed.
What your chart does show, Mr. Secretary, is that steel and aluminum prices have spiked in the last year, and what RV manufacturers are telling me, that means for them is that where they once expected 10 percent growth this year, they’re now hoping for flat growth. So I appreciate your charts that are trying to educate me on what’s happening in my district, but I’m telling you that simply is not the case.
SEC. ROSS: I think it’s unfortunate that there’s been a lot of speculation on the part of people withholding inventory, people jacking up prices. If you look at the price movement, it actually is well in excess of any possible impact that the tariffs might have. So there’s been a lot of speculation going on. I think you’ll see things adjusting once people understand what the real situation is. I think it’s very unfortunate that speculators tried to take advantage of the consuming industries during recent months.
REP. WALORSKI: This is about jobs in my district. And we’ve seen the price increases in the last year, so what starts tomorrow, I’d have to see proven wrong pretty quickly, because this is a danger to jobs.
Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.