Miscellaneous Tariff Bills are Debated, Criticized, and Lobbied

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:

Company 2012 Q1
Du Pont DE Nemours & Co. $1,219,421
The Procter and Gamble Company $1,145,473
3M Company $1,020,000
Intel Corporation $882,000
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
Glanbia, Inc. $70,000
Payless Shoesource $50,000
Bose Corporation $40,000
Bumble Bee Foods, LLC $40,000
Glen Raven $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
Clariant Corporation $20,000
Fmc Corporation $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
Timex Group $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
Total $7,142,759

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