The current debate over how and whether to move miscellaneous tariff bills (MTBs) — legislative measures advocated by U.S. businesses for import duty relief on certain products — has implications for hundreds of companies and lobbyists wondering where to turn for help on legislation viewed as a key to helping American manufacturers and others stay competitive over the last 30 years.
Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, a former U.S. trade representative under the George W. Bush administration, has crafted the “Temporary Duty Suspension Process Act” with Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill that aims to move the initial responsibility for advancing miscellaneous tariff bills away from members of Congress and to the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC). Currently, the Ways and Means Committee invites members to offer their own bills seeking tariff reductions or suspensions. The Portman-McCaskill bill would instead allow companies and individuals to submit proposals directly to the USITC, while Congress would still have final approval. It would allow proposals to be:
- Initiated by the USITC
- Introduced via petition from an outside party
- Referred from a member of Congress.
The plan is intended to be a way to ease a debate launched by conservative South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who has charged that tariff breaks can be equated with earmarks. Others, including a large group of House Republican freshmen, disagree and say the tariff relief measures are needed to help the U.S. economy. That debate already has halted the progress of a miscellaneous tariff bill in Congress this session. According to the Ways and Means Committee, duty suspensions on more than 600 products are set to expire at the end of 2012.
While the Senate remains bogged down in the debate and only two Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine and James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma — have dared sponsor such legislation (leaving the prospects dim for Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus to move a measure), the House Ways and Means Committee has posted on its web site for public comment (until June 22) a list of 1,300 miscellaneous tariff bills that have been introduced by about 80 Republicans and 60 Democrats.
The number of bills is not unusual, and the number of tariff suspensions Congress approves in its regular MTBs typically runs in the hundreds. (The USITC posts on its web site a list of all MTBs for which the commission approved a “formal memorandum” to the House or Senate). And hundreds of lobbyists and companies are protecting their interests: even before the MTB process was opened by House and Senate leaders, at least 71 private companies had already lobbied for an exemption, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
In arguing his case, DeMint has offered data from the Customs and Border Protection Bureau of the Department of Homeland Security showing that most tariff suspensions benefit 10 or fewer companies. He said that “a process whereby a few companies, often times only one, have to hire a lobbyist and ask a favor of their congressman to introduce a bill before it gets sent to the International Trade Commission (ITC) for review, unnecessarily creates a situation ripe for abuse.”
Of course, under the proposal, companies or individuals could directly petition the USITC, which would then submit recommendations to Congress. And lobbyists are already knocking on the ITC’s door: 69 lobbyists have lobbied the USITC on various issues in the first part of 2012. The agency also boasts former staffers and Commissioners who have gone on to lobby, including:
- Charles Hansen: current lobbyist with National Environmental Strategies and former Director at the Office of Congressional Liaison for USITC. He currently represents multiple energy companies.
- Stephen Koplan: current lobbyist for the Wessel Group and a former Commissioner of the USITC. In 2011 Q4 Stephen lobbied the USITC on trade issues on behalf of United Steelworkers.
- Warren H Maruyama: current lobbyist for Hogan Lovells, Warren is a former attorney-advisor at USITC and lobbied the agency in the first half of 2011.
- Marcia E. Miller: current lobbyist for Arcelormittal, a steel and mining company, and a former Commissioner of the USITC. Marcia has lobbied on tariff related legislation for Arcelormittal.
- J.V. Schwan: current lobbyist for Baxter Healthcare who was nominated to be a Commissioner of the USITC but was never confirmed by the Senate. J.V. has contacted the USITC on behalf of Baxter and tariff issues.
Disclosure records for the first quarter of 2012 show a total of 30 firms lobbying the commission, and 38 clients. The following is a list of lobbying clients and their first quarter lobbying expenditures:
|Du Pont DE Nemours & Co.||$1,219,421|
|The Procter and Gamble Company||$1,145,473|
|National Retail Federation||$720,000|
|National Business Aviation Association, Inc.||$450,000|
|Automotive Aftermarket Industry Assn||$428,630|
|American Apparel & Footwear Association||$182,735|
|Technology Association of America, Inc.||$160,000|
|Sony Electronics Inc.||$127,000|
|Intellectual Property Owners Association||$100,000|
|Embraer Aircraft Holding, Inc.||$80,000|
|Embraer Empresa Brasileira DE Aeronautica, S.A.||$80,000|
|Bumble Bee Foods, LLC||$40,000|
|European-American Business Council||$30,000|
|Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America||$30,000|
|National Tooling and MacHining Association||$30,000|
|Precision Metalforming Association||$30,000|
|Assn of Medical Device Reprocessors||$20,000|
|California Dried Plum Board||$20,000|
|California Walnut Commission||$20,000|
|National Farmers Union||$20,000|
|Steel Manufacturers Association||$17,500|
|American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA)||$10,000|
|Fashion Accessories Shippers Association||$10,000|
|Invicta Watch Company of America||$10,000|
|Travel Goods Association||$10,000|
|Committee on Pipe and Tube Imports||< $5000|
|E.S. Originals Inc.||< $5000|
|Leviton Manufacturing Company, Inc.||< $5000|
|True Source Honey, LLC||< $5000|