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Tariff Bills Muddle Earmark Message

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Mick Mulvaney signed on to a letter to Speaker John Boehner last week asking that he allow miscellaneous tariff bills.

Any American company can import the chemical 4-propylbenzaldehyde. But only one patented its use in manufacturing a clear plastic that makes water bottles and other products.

That company, Spartanburg, S.C.-based Milliken and Co., wants to import it cheaply, so it petitioned GOP Rep. Mick Mulvaney — just as it did his predecessor, Rep. John Spratt (D) — to ask for a reduction on the tariff of buying mass quantities of it from Japan.

But don’t call it an earmark.

Mulvaney is one of 65 freshman House Republicans who last week signed on to a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) asking that he allow these miscellaneous tariff bills.

House rules prohibit “limited tariff bills,” or reduced taxes on imports that benefit 10 or fewer manufacturers. So in order for Mulvaney’s bill to be aboveboard, the company had to prove that
although it profits every time the product is used, at least nine other companies benefit, too.

“It has to benefit the market and the industry generally, not just the people in my district,” Mulvaney said. “It’s used in literally thousands of different products.”

Some 600 of these tariff bills are set to expire at the end of the year, most covering chemicals named with an indecipherable amalgam of letters and numbers but which play an integral part in the construction of everything from Styrofoam cups to military tanks.

So to keep the cost of these products from going up, Members must submit bills to the Ways and Means Committee by the end of the month asking for tariff reductions and must prove they benefit multiple importers, manufacturers, retailers and so on.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) will bundle them into a package and try to pass it.

So unique are most of these chemicals, however, that only one or two companies even deal in them, said Dave Beck, director of the Office of Tariff Affairs and Trade Agreements at the International Trade Commission, which has to approve the tariffs.

“There may not even be 10 people that would use it,” he said. “When you talk about who’s benefiting, there’s usually one or two companies who may be involved in asking for a bill, but then it’s up to the Hill to decide who’s really to benefit.”

Sage Eastman, a spokesman for Camp, said the difference from prior years is that there is a new process by which the committee will scrutinize each bill.

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