Lawmakers in both the House of Representatives and the Senate have been working throughout 2012 to assemble a miscellaneous tariff bill (MTB), which would remove import duties on hundreds of chemicals and other raw materials used in manufacturing.
MTB is a compilation of individual duty suspension bills introduced by members of Congress on behalf of companies in their districts or states. The bills request that duties be temporarily suspended on specific products that are not made in the U.S.
The last MTB passed by Congress in 2010 is set to expire at the end of the year. As a result, chemical manufacturers face the prospect of paying higher tariffs on hundreds of imported materials, which would increase the cost of domestic production.
More than 1,200 duty suspension bills have been introduced in Congress this year. The expectation is that the Senate Finance and House Ways & Means Committees will roll these bills into a larger package before the current duty suspension expires. Whether lawmakers will act on the measure before Dec. 31 is unclear.
“Congress still has a significant amount of work to do before the end of the year, but we remain hopeful there is space for MTB,” says a spokeswoman for the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates (SOCMA), a trade group that represents specialty chemical makers.
In the past, Congress routinely passed tariff bills without controversy. But the current effort has been complicated by several Republican senators who argue that duty suspensions have a limited benefit and are essentially special-interest spending earmarks.
“Earlier this year, Heritage Action published a study showing that the overwhelming majority of the proposed limited tariff bills benefit 10 or fewer companies, making the point that indeed, these bills function as earmarks to favored companies and don’t benefit industries across the board,” says Sen. James DeMint (R-S.C.).
SOCMA and many other business groups view duty suspensions outside this definition because they are available to any company importing these products, have broader benefits to downstream companies, and are not domestically produced.