By: the Gazette Xtra

The U.S. Department of Commerce decision last week to reduce tariffs on Canadian newsprint—from as high as 32 percent to 20 percent—is welcome but doesn’t go far enough. We’re holding out hope the U.S. International Trade Commission will completely overturn the tariffs when it meets Wednesday, Aug. 29.

Regardless of what happens, we’re heartened to see lawmakers from both parties making a last-minute push against the tariffs. We applaud, in particular, five members of the Wisconsin delegation—Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Reps. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeluah; Ron Kind, D-La Crosse; Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls; and Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay—for voicing their opposition in a July 31 letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer.

The letter describes the “permanent damage being done to Wisconsin’s newspaper industry,” noting newspaper industry costs have risen by about 30 percent.

“Notwithstanding the many other tariff decisions this administration has made or threatened, this particular decision not only is adding insurmountable financial pressures on these owners and operators of our state’s small towns and weekly newspapers, but it’s leading many of them to rethink the viability of their entire operations,” the letter reads.

It’s disappointing the entire delegation didn’t sign the letter, though missing signatures don’t necessarily indicate a representative’s support for the tariffs. In a July 25 phone call with Ross and other commerce department representatives, House Speaker Paul Ryan “expressed his concerns about the negative impact” of the tariffs, according to a July 26 memo obtained by The Gazette.

While Congress hasn’t taken action to thwart tariffs, Ryan has at least spoken against them.

Rep. Mark Pocan, whose district extends into Rock County, also didn’t sign the letter, but a spokesman for Pocan’s office said the Democrat “opposes the administration’s newsprint tariffs and is concerned about the negative impacts ... on local newspapers, which are so important to communities throughout Wisconsin.”

Sen. Tammy Baldwin has been noncommittal on the issue, sending to the International Trade Commission on July 17 a cryptic letter that seems to neither oppose nor support the tariff. A spokesperson for her office confirmed Baldwin “has not taken a position” on these tariffs.

In case Baldwin or any other legislator requires reminding about the importance of community journalism, newspapers are the watchdogs of government—the fourth estate. These tariffs undermine newspapers’ ability to gather and report the news. They act as a tax on not only readers but on democracy itself.