What, you thought that Congress had really frozen out all of its earmarks? The Washington Post reports today that one of the final acts of the 109th Congress was to pass a tax bill — the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 — that included 520 import tariff breaks for select companies. The Post notes, “Corporate lobbyists often craft such suspensions to apply to just one product imported by just one company. Many of those companies and their executives have given millions of dollars to political campaigns.” Of course none of these companies are identified nor do we know who inserted these tax earmarks into the tax bill. All that we have is a very long (and sometimes silly) list that details precisely which items are to be free of import tariffs.
The odd thing about these tax earmarks is that the earmark reform rule change (H. Res. 1000) passed by the House in September stipulates that all tax earmarks be disclosed along with the name of the member of Congress who inserted them. So, either the 109th Congress ended their session by passing a bill that was in violation of the rules or the earmark reform rules they passed were very easy to bypass.
The incoming House Ways & Means Subcommittee on Trade Chairman Sander Levin (D-MI) says that, “The old days of lack of transparency, I think those days have to end.” Levin favors forcing members to put their names on these tax earmarks and disclosing the names of the companies that would benefit.
Below is a list that demonstrates how absurdly specific these tax earmarks get:
- Radiobroadcast receivers capable of operating without an external source of power, not containing a clock or clock timer in the same housing, each containing only an AM radiobroadcast receiver
- Other footwear with uppers of leather or composition leather, for persons other than for men or women
- Footwear with outer soles of leather and uppers of leather, covering the ankle, other than for women
- Footwear with outer soles of leather or composition leather and uppers of textile materials, valued over $2.50 per pair, the foregoing other than for men or women
- Fine animal hair of Kashmir (cashmere) goats
- Marine sextants of metal, designed for use in navigating by celestial bodies
- Electrically operated pencil sharpeners
- Wing illumination lights, designed for use on airplanes
- Grass shears with swiveling heads and with rotating vertical and horizontal cutting blades of steel
- Packages containing 4 or 5 different fireplace tools, such tools of iron or steel, intended for sale to the ultimate consumer in such packages
- Oysters (other than smoked), prepared or preserved
- Boots constructed by hand of natural rubber, the foregoing with steel toes and incorporating ballistic nylon for cut protection, with self-cleaning lug soles or with `caulked' soles for slip and fall protection
- Golf bag bodies made of woven fabrics of nylon or polyester, sewn together with rainhoods, pockets, dividers, and graphite shaft protection
- Camcorders each capable of recording and reproducing video images on mini-DVD media in all the following formats: DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD-RAM, or DVD+RW, the foregoing each with 25 power optical zoom and a lens diameter of 34 mm
- Hand-held electromechanical can openers, with self-contained electric motor
- Electromechanical knives, with self-contained electric motor
- Electromechanical ice shavers, with self-contained electric motor
- Dual-grid electric sandwich grillers, each with lock and floating upper lid
- Electromechanical juice extractors, each with a self-contained 2-speed electric motor rated over 300 W but not over 400 W
- Electrothermic automatic drip coffeemakers without electronic clock, each with self-contained coffee holding chamber and designed to be used without separate carafe
- Color video monitors each having a flat panel screen, BNC input connection and video loop-thru connector, the foregoing with a video display diagonal of either 41.9 cm or more but not more than 44.5 cm, or 47 cm or more but not more than 49.5 cm
The above are some of the more colorful and ridiculous examples of these kinds of tax earmarks. The majority of the tax earmarks are chemicals and industrial equipment. If you have any knowledge of chemicals and who might use them and for what use go ahead and check out the bill (HR 6111) and report back in the comments.