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Last Wednesday, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced a conference call with an ostensibly simple purpose: He and a group of Senate colleagues were introducing the Temporary Duty Suspension Process Act, a bill to reform the process of enacting targeted duty suspensions.
What followed shows how complicated politics can be, even for a veteran such as Portman, who cut his teeth heading up the Office of Legislative Affairs under President George H.W. Bush before winning a House seat in Ohio and then going on to be U.S. trade representative and head of the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush.
For example, one office that did not receive a heads up about the conference call was that of the bill’s Democratic co-sponsor, Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.).
Apparently caught off guard, McCaskill spokesman Drew Pusateri awkwardly told a reporter for the Washington Examiner “he could not comment specifically on Portman’s bill, but that she has been working with other Senators to develop bipartisan legislation to reform the process.”
And after Roll Call’s initial story on the legislation was published Wednesday, Pusateri requested that a quote from McCaskill be added.
The two offices released a joint press release later that evening that said the duo “today joined together and introduced bipartisan legislation.”
The bill Portman and McCaskill introduced would reform the miscellaneous tariff bill in a way they hope does not run afoul of the Congressional ban on earmarks that could ensnare it.
The approach runs contrary to the position of House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), who has argued strenuously that no such reforms are necessary to bypass the earmark ban.
That’s especially so because the bill is backed by McCaskill and conservative icon Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and was the product of a working group that included Senate Republican leadership.
Or at least, most of leadership.
On the conference call, Portman said he had worked on the bill with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.) and Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman Roy Blunt (Mo.).
“We have been working closely together to come up with a reform bill. I want to thank Sen. Kyl, Sen. McConnell, Sen. Blunt, Sen. DeMint, Sen. Thune and others who have worked with me on this,” Portman said.
Later during the call, Portman said, “We started this process to work with all of the leaders on our side of the aisle,” called the resulting product the “consensus bill” and said, “We’re all together at this point.”