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A Quiet Break for Corporations

Anita Dungey says her family's company could have been wiped out by a proposed tariff suspension.
Anita Dungey says her family's company could have been wiped out by a proposed tariff suspension. (By Kevin Rivoli For The Washington Post)

The House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee review most of the bills in what members say is an attempt to weed out those too costly to the Treasury. Making the tariff suspensions temporary -- usually three years -- avoids interference with trade negotiations, aides said.

The process has become so standardized that Ways and Means has drawn up a tip sheet for companies to streamline the procedure. One tip says sponsors should "avoid using trade names for products." Instead, a product "should be described precisely" in the bill. That can help customs officials in the field identify obscure chemicals. But it also can mask which companies would benefit.

The Post analysis shows that some members of Congress went to bat repeatedly for their corporate constituents. At least 36 members of Congress have introduced five or more tariff-suspension bills in the current session.

Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) has introduced at least 34 such bills. She did not respond to interview requests.

South Carolina's Brown ranked second among House members, with 32 bills. Brown declined to be interviewed but issued a statement calling the suspensions "a budget-neutral means of promoting a positive economic climate."

Other leading bill sponsors in the House included Pennsylvania Republicans Tim Murphy and Phil English, each with 23, and Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) with 21.

Murphy said in a statement: "American companies are being forced to pay duties on materials not available in the United States that they need. Eliminating these duties keeps American businesses globally competitive and thousands of jobs right here at home."

Juggling the Ball Bills

Under guidelines set by Congress, each tariff suspension is supposed to cost taxpayers no more than $500,000 a year. Many proposals above the limit are rejected; others win approval anyway.

Some lawmakers adopt another strategy, The Post's analysis found.

On June 8, 2005, Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) introduced a bill seeking to suspend the tariff on one small category of inflatable balls -- in this case, leather basketballs.

Before the day was over, Neal introduced a nearly identical bill covering rubber basketballs, another for synthetic basketballs, and another covering basketballs "other than leather, rubber or synthetic."

Still not done, Neal introduced yet another bill covering "certain volleyballs."

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