Caught in the crossfire of a ban on earmarks are little-known, specialized tax breaks members of Congress long secured for businesses back home.

But now, as part of the larger trade debate, Congress has found a way to bring them back without its fingerprints.

A once fairly uncontroversial practice, lawmakers would introduce legislation on behalf of a local company to suspend tariffs on a specific, often obscure, product only available overseas. The result was hundreds of narrow bills, each intended to benefit one manufacturer’s bottom line.

For example, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who alone sponsored more than 100 of these bills in 2013, had one to lift the duty on “certain smooth nonwoven fiberglass sheets of a type primarily used as acoustical facing for ceiling panels” on behalf of Armstrong World Industries  Inc.

Casey’s massive haul for Pennsylvania businesses is due in part to the refusal by that state’s other senator, Republican Pat Toomey, to introduce any of the so-called “miscellaneous tariff bills” or MTBs. Toomey, and many Republicans, contend that these carve-outs are no different than an earmark — a business coming hat-in-hand to a member of Congress asking for a break.

“Lawmakers served no purpose other than they churned through the proposals. They were there to be lobbied and to fundraise,” Steve Ellis of the Taxpayers For Common Sense told the Loop. “They were sort of like a vestigial organ.”

So lawmakers have agreed to take themselves out of the equation and allow businesses to go directly to the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) with its requests. The change was passed by the Senate last week in a larger customs enforcement bill. Industry advocates hope getting rid of the “earmark perception problem” will end the uncertainty that’s plagued the process for the last several years.

The last MTB bill passed in 2010 — shepherded through as a jobs bill — and expired at the end of 2012. In that time, there began a moratorium on earmarks.

For the past two years, business advocates say, companies have paid taxes on imports they need and cannot get domestically. They’re hopeful that removing Congress from the process means they’ll get relief again from those extra payments.

But before they can shed Congress, they have to go through it. And the proposed change is a small slice in the much larger, politicized trade debate.