Skip to main content

Take politics out of tariff rules

By Jim DeMint, Special to CNN
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Wed April 25, 2012
Sen. Jim DeMint says companies shouldn't have to beg Congress for a break on tariffs.
Sen. Jim DeMint says companies shouldn't have to beg Congress for a break on tariffs.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sen. Jim DeMint: Manufacturers who want tariff exemptions must get OK from Congress
  • He says the result is a process akin to budget earmarks in which lobbying is key
  • DeMint, who is Republican, and a Democrat are sponsoring legislation to change system
  • DeMint: Our legislation would level the playing field for small business

Editor's note: Jim DeMint, a Republican, is a U.S. senator representing South Carolina.

(CNN) -- If you have lived a happy, normal, American life, you have probably never heard of something so tedious and alien as a Miscellaneous Tariff Bill. I envy you. But strange as it sounds, the obscure MTB is at the heart of a very small -- but very significant -- fight for American freedom.

So, what is an MTB? It works like this.

Every day, you and I use materials that come from other countries. From umbrellas to medicines to cars, even if they are made in the USA, their plastics and chemicals and other raw components are often imported.

Jim DeMint
Jim DeMint

Frequently, these raw materials are taxed at the border with federal tariffs, even if such products aren't produced in the United States and therefore must be imported.

And so, every year, hundreds of American companies ask Washington for relief from one or another tariff in the form of a "duty suspension" - essentially a waiver on the tariff. These suspensions can typically save an American company hundreds of thousands of dollars that in turn allows them to keep more Americans employed, while giving consumers access to less expensive, higher quality products we might otherwise go without.

Who could possibly benefit from a process whereby nonpolitical companies...are forced by Congress to hire a lobbyist and pony up cash for re-election campaigns...
Sen. Jim DeMint

Each particular duty suspension must first be introduced as its own bill. They all get referred to the same congressional committees, which then pass them along to the International Trade Commission, which vets the merits of the application and sends back the approved ones packaged into -- you guessed it -- a Miscellaneous Tariff Bill, which passes the House and Senate without any objection from anyone.

It's a bipartisan no-brainer.

Except, well, look at that first step again. Each individual tariff suspension has to be turned into a special bill and introduced by the company's representative or senator. Why? Why can't companies just petition the International Trade Commission directly, since they're the agency that reviews the applications anyway?

I mean, who could possibly benefit from a process whereby nonpolitical companies, rightly focused on their customers and products, are forced by Congress to hire a lobbyist and pony up cash for re-election campaigns in order to get something the law says they deserve? Who, indeed?

The process is worse than unfair and inefficient; it's fundamentally un-republican and un-democratic.

If an application to suspend a tariff has merit, small businesses shouldn't be forced to grovel and kiss the ring of their own public servant to get it suspended.

This is why this bad process has been treated just like spending earmarks under House and Senate rules for years and why Republicans in the House and Senate included limited tariff benefits as part of the earmark ban after 2010 elections.

Some want to restart this part of the political favor factory and hope Americans don't notice Republicans breaking their own earmark ban, and others want to redefine earmarks to create a loophole for tariff suspensions. But the whole purpose of the earmark ban was to change the way we do business, not to change the definitions and rules of earmarks to pretend bad behavior is suddenly alright.

And we wonder why Congress's approval rating is in the single digits.

That's why I have introduced bipartisan legislation to end this odious practice and reform the MTB process once and for all. The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, streamlines the MTB process by allowing manufacturers to petition the trade commission directly.

Under our reformed process, once these requests have been properly vetted, the trade commission can make its recommendations to Congress. Congress would retain its authority over trade policy and the ability to assist constituent companies with the MTB process, while the time and money saved from cutting out the lobbying process will benefit small businesses and their consumers, to say nothing of disinfecting the ugly, quasi-feudalism of the current pay-to-play racket.

Our legislation would level the playing field for small businesses. As it is, the companies that obtain duty suspensions are too often those that can afford the most expensive, well-connected lobbyists. Our proposal allows every business to bring its case before a group of independent commissioners at the trade commission right from the start; no longer will large corporations be able to buy their way to the front of the line.

Cleaning up bureaucracy and giving small businesses a fair shake in Washington is just one small step toward helping a few more citizens to go back to enjoying a happier and more normal American life.

Follow us on Twitter: @CNNOpinion

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jim DeMint.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 3:28 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT