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Tariff Modifications: Miscellaneous Duty Suspension Bills

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Publication Date: February 2007

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL33867

Topic: Trade (Customs administration and duties)

Abstract:

Companies often propose that Members of Congress introduce bills seeking to suspend or reduce tariffs on certain imports. The vast majority of these commodities are chemicals, raw materials, or other components used in the manufacturing process. The rationale for these requests, in general, is that they help producers reduce costs, thus making their products more competitive. In turn, these cost reductions can be passed on to the consumer.

In recent congressional practice, House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees, the committees of jurisdiction over tariffs, have combined duty suspension bills and other technical trade provisions into larger pieces of legislation known as miscellaneous trade and technical corrections bills (MTBs). Before inclusion in an MTB, individual legislative proposals are reviewed by trade subcommittee staff and several executive branch agencies to ensure that they are noncontroversial (generally, that no domestic producer objects) and relatively revenue-neutral (revenue loss of no more than $500,000 per item).

In the 109th Congress, on December 8, 2006, the House passed H.R. 6406, a trade package that included suspension of duties on about 380 products until December 31, 2009, and pursuant to the rule (H.Res. 1100), inserted it into H.R. 6111, a previously House-passed tax extension package. The Senate approved H.R. 6111 on December 9, and it was signed by the President on December 20, 2006 (P.L. 109-432). Tariff suspensions on about 300 other products were previously approved as inserted into H.R. 4, The Pension Protection Act of 2006 (P.L. 109-280).

In the 110th Congress, congressional earmark reform legislation in both Houses also seeks to target "limited tariff benefit[s]," defined as "a provision modifying the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States in a manner that benefits 10 or fewer entities." On January 5, 2007, the House adopted earmark reform parliamentary procedures upon its agreement to Title IV of H.Res. 6. The measure would make it out of order to consider bills containing earmarks, limited tax benefits, or limited tariff benefits unless certain reporting requirements are met by the committee of jurisdiction and the Member proposing the legislation. The House earmark reform procedures are now in effect because a simple resolution, such as H.Res. 6, is only effective in the chamber that adopts it, and thus requires no further action.

On January 18, 2007, the Senate passed S. 1, the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007. This bill includes similar language describing limited tariff benefits and reporting requirements, but it also proposes that the list of earmarks and other benefits should be posted "on the Internet in a searchable format to the general public for at least 48 hours before consideration of the bill or joint resolution." Since the Senate version is in a bill, these measures cannot go into effect until the House passes its version, both the House and Senate reach agreement on all the provisions, and the bill becomes law. This report, which supercedes CRS Report RS21406, will be updated as events warrant.