New tariffs could raise workers' wages in Ohio, and cost of energy in Vermont

Published: Jan. 25, 2018 at 5:43 PM EST
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New trade restrictions could change how you wash your clothes, power your home and affect how much cash is in your wallet.

The foreign competition for Whirlpool's washing machine factories in Ohio will pay a steep price to get its product into the country next month. That's after President Trump declared a new tax that reaches as high as 50 percent for large washing machines.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the tax- known as a tariff- will greatly benefit his state.

"Ohio is really the leading manufacturing state in the country," he explained.

Brown said the tariff levels the playing field by dinging companies that get financial help from their own country. Even if part of that tax gets passed on to shoppers, he thinks his state comes out ahead.

"If you have a good manufacturing base and good paying industrial jobs, it means people can afford to buy things," he said.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, doesn't share a party with Brown but finds himself in agreement with his fellow senator from Ohio. Many of Portman's fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill have asked the president to reconsider the tariffs for fear of a trade war.

"I understand their concern that we don't want to get into a trade war; I don't either. I understand about not withdrawing from NAFTA, we ought to improve NAFTA, not withdraw from it," said Portman, "but with regard to these trade actions, where we're able to save American jobs and American companies just by asking for a level playing field, I think that's good policy."

The Trump administration is also targeting foreign solar companies with a 30 percent tax on solar technology. While Brown said that will benefit manufacturers in his state, retailers further down the supply chain are bracing for a financial hit.

James Moore of Vermont-based SunCommon said the company filled two warehouses to the brim with pre-tax solar panels.

"We wanted to make sure that we kept solar affordable for as many Vermont households as possible," he said. But the supply is limited, with enough for about 450 homes.

D.C.-based spokespeople for the solar industry said sticker shock will decrease how many panels get installed, and zap 23,000 jobs in the industry across the country.

"It's a loss of economic opportunity, it's a loss of jobs and it's a loss of opportunity for clean energy," said Dan Whiten a spokesperson for the Solar Energy Industries Association.

American manufacturers build only about one out every 10 panels installed in the U.S., so Whitten said the industry will continue to rely heavily on foreign products. The tariffs take effect in early February. The solar tariff phases out after four years, while the washing machine tax dissolves after three.

Vermont's federal lawmakers are strongly criticizing the solar tariff. In a statement, the country's longest-serving Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy, called the solar tariff, "cynical, rash, and shortsighted unilateral action." He added that the solar tax, "will damage America's cleaner energy future, in Vermont and across the nation."

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, writes: "we must ensure that the solar industry in Vermont and the rest of the nation remains strong and growing. President Trump's decision today does the very opposite."

Spokespeople for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, did not respond to our request for comment. Sanders frequently railed against unfair foreign practices while on the presidential campaign trail in 2016.

Union spokespeople for Whirlpool workers in Ohio also did not respond when we asked if they feel more secure or expect a raise as a result of the new tax.