Hovercraft skirts and canned water chestnuts look as if they are getting a free ride into the United States, as are a giant pipe organ for a California cathedral and scientific equipment for a Missouri cancer hospital.
These items all were part of an annual rite of spring for the House Ways and Means Committee's trade subcommittee, which yesterday held a fast-paced drafting session on special tariff bills dear to individual members' hearts.
Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Calif.) won the subcommittee's approval of a refund of $18,900.38 for the Crystal Cathederal of Garden Grove, Calif., where many of his Orange County constituents attend church, representing the customs duty it paid on a pipe organ it bought from Italy.
It seems there is no duty charged on whole pipe organs, but the instrument bought by the 10,000-member Reformed Church of America for its cathedral was so large that it was sent over in six shipments, leading the Customs Service to assess the duty that applies to organ parts.
Not only does the church get its money back, but last year Congress passed a bill removing tariffs on organ parts.
Subcommittee approval of a bill to refund $20,000 in duty paid by a Columbia, Mo., state cancer hospital appeared to be the end of "three years of frustration," said James Jaffe, administrative assistant to Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.). The congressmen has been working to get back the duty mistakenly paid by the hospital on special equipment it bought from Germany.
Now he must make certain that it sails as easily through the full committee, the House and the Senate.
Anything approved yesterday was deemed non-controversial in an attempt to win quick passage by both the House and Senate. "It tends to drag everyone's bill down if there's one bad apple in the bunch," said Chairman Sam Gibbons (D-Fla.).
The subcommittee staff estimated the total tariff exemptions at $20 million. This year, the subcommittee has decided to allow up to $50 million in relief.
The most controversial ones, however, were set aside.
Take roses, for instance. There's nothing sweet and romantic about the tariff fight over that flower. Some congressional aides believe that the issue never will make it through the subcommittee.
But Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.) said he still holds hope for his bill, which would raise the duty on imported roses--mostly from Colombia, although others come from Holland and Israel--from 8 percent to between 17 and 24 percent. This would match the tariff charged by the European Economic Community, possibly providing an incentive for Colombian growers to ship their roses across the Atlantic.
Increasing tariffs on roses may please the California growers, but it triggered opposition from florists and from the Container Corp. of America, which makes corrugated boxes used to ship roses from Colombia.
There was no controversy to the bill sponsored by Rep. Robert W. Edgar (D-Pa.) to continue the exemption on hovercraft skirts--a special fabric available only overseas. The exemption is needed by a suburban Philadelphia boat manufacturer who wants to make the part that allows his boats to ride on a cushion of air.
Rep. Delbert Latta (R-Ohio) gained easy approval of his measure to allow duty-free entry of canned water chestnuts and bean sprouts, which are not produced domestically and which million of Americans need for their chop suey.
And Rep. Robert Garcia (D-N.Y.) helped a constituent by winning approval of a bill that would allow him to import cat toys made of cloth at the same low rate he is charged when the toys are made of rubber. Around Garcia's office, it is called "the mousey bill."