The Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB) is a compendium of more than two thousand tariff waivers which reduce the fees importers pay for a wide range of imported products – from snow globes to sports bras, from capers to dimethyl carbonate polymer with 1,6-hexanediol and 2-oxepanone. Each Congress crafts the bill out of the limelight with only a few (thousand) vested interests looking on. This year, it’s become a hot topic because of the existing moratorium on earmarks and a debate around whether the miscellaneous tariff bill is an earmark bill.
Here’s how this system works: lawmakers file their individual tariff relief bills along with paperwork that provides documentation regarding the beneficiaries, the specific product, etc. Next, the International Trade Commission (ITC) investigates to see that there aren’t domestic competitors for the products (which would sink the proposed tariff benefit) and that the cost doesn’t exceed $500,000. Then the Customs Service will determine if it is implementable. And finally Congress cobbles together all the vetted provisions into one massive MTB.
This process differs slightly from appropriations and authorization earmarks in that there is a joint legislative branch-independent agency process of proposing, vetting, passing, and presumably signing proposals into law. However, there isn’t much need for the initial proposing by Congress. The companies that want tariff relief could apply directly to the ITC, be vetted, and then that list be submitted to Congress for approval. Or, the ITC could independently review the tariff system and see where they can reduce tariffs without harming domestic manufacturers. It’s hard to see how Congress being in the front end improves the system. But it sure is good for lobbyists seeking clients and lawmakers looking for contributions from donors and brownie points from constituents.
TCS compiled the tariff relief database so taxpayers can research what their lawmaker is requesting. It includes the lawmaker, the product that is subject to the tariff, the benefiting company, the lobbyist behind it (if applicable) and the campaign cash involved (again, if applicable).
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