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Some Lawmakers See Bipartisan Potential in Manufacturing Measures

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Coons is the point person for the Democratic manufacturing agenda and said he has been discussing with GOP allies possible strategies for structuring and moving bills.

He has been discussing with allies such as Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., possible strategies for structuring and moving bills. “The goal is not one big package, but a series of bills that make sense,” Coons said.

“We’re trying to see what we can come up with that might have broad bipartisan support,” Blunt said.

Other conservative Republicans, such as Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, said they would prefer to focus on two priorities that raise red flags for Democrats: easing regulatory curbs and expediting trade deals. “Regulatory relief, that’s the biggest thing,” Hoeven said.

Others see expanding trade opportunities as the best path to foster a U.S. manufacturing revival.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., have announced they will try to renew fast-track trade promotion authority for Obama. But some lawmakers in both parties are leery of ceding authority for sweeping deals such as the pending 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership. And both parties disagree on how to structure a possible extension of trade adjustment assistance for displaced workers.

Despite such disputes, Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., a co-chairman of the 106-member House Manufacturing Caucus, said bipartisan proposals could gain ground as both sides hunt for accomplishments before the 2014 elections. “Jobs is the No. 1 issue in America, on top of Obamacare. There are so many districts on the Republican side that rely on U.S. manufacturing,” he said.

Reed and others point to recent factory expansions and domestic sourcing deals in red states. For example, Apple Inc. announced plans this month for a new consumer electronics factory with 700 workers in Arizona. Chinese computer-maker Lenovo opened its first U.S. assembly plan with 115 workers in North Carolina in June. And Arkansas-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has agreed to buy an additional $50 billion in U.S.-made goods over 10 years.

As more announcements roll out, Reed and other lawmakers are betting there will be more consensus for manufacturing incentives.

In his visit to Cleveland, Obama made the case for a proposal by Blunt and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio to expand a network of manufacturing research hubs backed by private-public partnerships to develop new processes, materials and products. They would be similar to the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown, Ohio, which is developing three-dimensional printing technology. But the bill faces hurdles because of its $600 million price tag, which would be offset by a rescission of Commerce Department funds.

Key players in both parties also have their eyes on grants for energy-efficient equipment, repeal of the medical device tax and an extension of the research and development tax credit. Tax breaks could move on their own, if a tax overhaul loses traction. Coons also hopes to move sweeteners for startup ventures such as a research-and-development credit with tax measures, and he has his eye on a new batch of House GOP proposals to ease securities regulations.

House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas said Republicans are skeptical of new mandates and write-offs and would prefer to remove hurdles to investment. One proposal by Rep. Michael G. Grimm of New York would loosen limits on business development companies. “The key issue that we have is getting capital, and being able to get a loan,” Sessions said.

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