See Who’s Seeking Tax Breaks on Imports from Congress


House Members proposed more than 800 bills that would provide tax relief–in the form of tariff suspensions–for about 120 companies and organizations during the 110th Congress. The U.S. International Trade Commission, which analyzes the bills, suggests that all told, those bills–if enacted–will cost the Treasury $1.1 billion in 2009. Sunlight (actually, yours truly, all by himself) has slapped together a little database on the bills, showing the sponsors and the beneficiaries, the items to be imported, links to documents and lobbying reports, plus other good stuff (and lots of not so good stuff, including phrases like, “dissolved into a viscose solution and extruded through perforated metal disks”).

Tariff bills range from measures that would open the door to low cost footwear from China (affecting about 60 percent of the shoes sold in the United States, according to the International Trade Commission) to measures that will save a Connecticut textile firm the princely sum of $5.40 a year on imported “camel hair, not processed in any manner beyond the degreased or carbonized condition.”

While it’s easy to get lost in the details, a few points about tariff suspensions are worth mentioning: like earmarks, they generally benefit one company or organization; the House instituted new rules to provide more transparency in the tariff suspension process (these greatly facilitated my making of the database); transparency assumes that the press or public actually looks at what’s being made transparent; and, finally, because none of these bills is likely to pass before the current Congress turns out the lights, many of them will probably be reintroduced at some point in the 111th Congress, and we’ll keep tracking them.

Much more on this at Real Time.

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  • Brett King

    Anyone looking to end the tariff, on sugar other sweetners, ethanol?

  • Sean S.

    The argument is not over free-trade; its over whether or not congressional members can exempt businesses in their districts from tariffs by crafting exceedingly narrow language. Both free-traders and people in support of tariffs should be horrified by this patchwork system which favors some companies over others.

  • Andrew

    Free trade works best. Everyone benefits in the long run with free trade. I keep hearing complaints about outsourcing and immigration but the fact remains, the corporate tax and the social security tax makes American productivity to expensive.

  • Rick O.

    Imposing tariffs will entice industry to return manufacturing to U.S. soil. It’s both the carrot and the stick: move operations here and avoid the import tax, and enjoy duty-free access to American consumers, or choose to continue producing on foreign soil and pay up. I’d love to see industries which were decimated by free trade, such as clothing, shoes, textiles, and machinery, begin to rebound to pre-outsourcing levels.

    Tariff revenue would also reduce the income tax burden on wage-earners. As the economy strengthens, tariffs can be selectively modified or eliminated. Meanwhile, as a staunch economic nationalist, I buy American.

  • Ms. Peebles,

    Thanks for the kind words. One thing about this data — most of the products are chemicals or machine parts, the writing is dry, technical and deathly dull, but there are some oddball items in there (like the unicycles).

    This USITC report strikes and almost whimsical tone:

    “Bells are the most common device used by bicycle riders to warn pedestrians or operators of other vehicles that they are approaching. Bells designed for use on bicycles are usually mechanically operated, and may have outer cases of metal, plastics, or wood. Brackets are the most common means of affixing bells to bicycle handle bars. The frequency with which the bells are actually rung is often a function of local culture or traditions. In Western Europe, it is acceptable to ring a bell only when an accident is imminent or the rider must stop the bicycle to avoid striking a pedestrian. In India, however, no such constraint exists and the ringing of a bicycle bell is not taken as seriously as in Western Europe.”

    Coming across the discussion of variations in bell ringing in local cultures was a welcome diversion. Of course, it’s not clear that bicycle bells will save us from financial ruin anymore than unicycles will (of course, if we had unicycles with bells, then we might be getting somewhere!).

  • Mr. Allison,

    This database is great — thank you for your hard work. It’s important that the public be able to find out about tax breaks like these.

    I have to point out my very favorite proposed tariff suspension in the database: The one for unicycles! (HR 4939, for those who think I’m making this up.)

    I can see the claims now: America’s economy will go into the toilet unless Congress takes drastic action to allow international unicycle commerce to go unfettered!


    — Jennifer Peebles
    Texas Watchdog
    Houston, TX