There has been much discussion lately about whether or not duty suspensions qualify as earmarks under the definitions used in the House and Senate. Both the House and Senate define a limited tariff benefit as "a provision modifying the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States in a manner that benefits 10 or fewer entities."
Historical data provided by the Customs and Border Protection Bureau (CBP) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) shows conclusively that the overwhelming majority of duty suspensions do in fact benefit 10 or fewer companies, thereby staying below the threshold established by the House and Senate Rules to be an earmark.
CBP has provided to my office data on the number of companies taking advantage of the duty suspensions previously enacted into law. As the table below shows an overwhelming majority of duty suspensions are targeted to a very small number of companies.
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And the data shows that very often it's just one company coming to their Congressman for a break for themselves.
Reductions in tariffs are themselves not the problem. As a supporter of free trade, I fully support removing trade barriers that hurt American businesses and raise costs on American consumers. However, a process whereby a few companies, often times only one, have to hire a lobbyist and ask a favor of their Congressman to introduce a bill before it gets sent to the International Trade Commission (ITC) for review, unnecessarily creates a situation ripe for abuse.
A better policy would be the bipartisan reform put forward by Sen. Claire McCaskill and myself, to eliminate the unnecessary obstacles for tariff suspensions and allow businesses small and large to petition directly to the ITC, who would then submit their recommendations to Congress. This would result in more tariff suspensions, help small businesses, increase transparency, reduce corruption, and still allow Congress to retain full authority on what bill is ultimately passed.