Another Type of Earmarking?

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DailyKos diarist SusanG has stirred quite an examination of temporary duty suspensions–essentially, cuts in the amount of tariff collected by the U.S. government on certain items imported into the United States (there’s a fairly good description of the practice here, noted by commenter se portland). SusanG writes that Sen. George Allen, R-Va., has sponsored quite a few duty suspensions for small appliances–certain kinds of toaster ovens, juicers, electric can openers and automatic drip coffeemakers. She adds that some people might say describe such bills as an “egregious waste of Senate space when the country faces such problems as war, national security, energy independence and a tanking economy,” adding that perhaps Sen. John Kerry is just such a person, an odd choice really, when one considers that among the temporary duty suspensions that Sen. Kerry has offered one finds various types of golf equipment–including driver heads made of titanium or with plasma welded face plates–as well as basketballs, volleyballs, headphones and high performance speakers.

All of which makes me wonder, how is that a Sen. Allen decides to cut the tariff for a toaster or a Sen. Kerry for titanium golf clubs, but not suspend tariffs for an electric razor or a graphite racquet. Obviously, someone is asking them to exempt these items, as the above linked description makes clear:

Another bill would suspend the duty on “golf bag bodies made of woven nylon or polyester fabric, sewn together with rainhoods, pockets, dividers, and graphite shaft protection.” Sun Mountain Sports of Missoula uses them to manufacture golf bags.

“This is Max using his seniority on the Finance Committee to help Montana businesses grow and expand,” said Baucus spokesman Barrett Kaiser. “That’ll help create jobs and boost our state’s economy.”

Eric Reimers of Sun Mountain Sports gave $1,000 to Baucus’ campaign in 2001, and Marcia Reimers of the company gave him $500 in 2002.

The bills are just three of many hundreds of similar measures introduced by senators to reduce or eliminate duties on narrowly defined products imported into the United States.

Not a lot of money donated, to be sure (and not given during the current election cycle). Still, a quick search of Thomas shows that there are 1,000 results for the phrase “To suspend temporarily the duty”–that not a lot of money could quickly add up–as could the total loss to the federal treasury: 1,000 cuts in tariffs costing a maximum of $500,000 could cost as much as $500 million. That’s not a lot of money in Washington terms, of course, but members handing out half-million-dollar tax breaks to contributors strikes me as the sort of thing that probably deserves more scrutiny than it gets…

At least members attach their names to these measures–would it be too much to ask that they do the same with earmarks?

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