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Study: Most Tariff Bills Would Count as ‘Earmarks’

Updated: 7:32 p.m.

The House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday published a list of approximately 1,300 proposed limited tariff bills under consideration for inclusion in legislation that Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) is pushing.

But the vast majority of the proposals benefit 10 or fewer companies, making them banned “earmarks” under House rules, according to an analysis by Heritage Action for America.

The conservative group found that only 16 of the 1,300 proposals help more than 10 entities.

To determine how many companies would benefit from each proposal, Heritage Action reviewed a preliminary disclosure form submitted by Members proposing the tariff bills that lists companies which, based on products they now import, would benefit.

The findings could bolster the group’s fight against the tariff legislation by showing how few proposals have widespread benefits.

On the other hand, the list of tariff bills includes proposals from across the ideological spectrum, offering evidence of widespread support for the push by Camp.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) proposed six tariff bills, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) proposed 11, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) proposed 16 and Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) proposed four.

Each of those lawmakers ranks highly on Heritage Action’s voting scorecard.

Among the Democrats who have bills on Camp’s list are Rep. Peter Welch (Vt.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.).

Camp’s fight has set off a debate within the Republican Conference over whether the limited tariff proposals should count as earmarks.

Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) has argued that the proposals are clear violations of House rules. For appropriators, the issue is fairness: they didn’t get to use spending earmarks, which they would control, so they view a change in the rules that would benefit Camp as an uneven application of the ban.

Camp argues the tariff proposals aren’t technically earmarks because they are available to anyone who wants to import the type of goods designated by the legislation.

The miscellaneous tariff bill process “specifically requires Members disclose whether the benefits of the provisions are broadly available and therefore not earmarks,” said Sarah Swinehart, a spokeswoman for the Ways and Means Committee.

Camp argued the opposite in 2010, when he explained on the House floor that he couldn’t vote for a miscellaneous tariff bill because of the earmark ban.

In that speech, Camp specifically said that the tariff proposals were broadly available, but lamented that the broad definition of earmark included those provisions.

“Any company or entity or person that imports that product receives the benefit of those lower duties,” Camp said, but “Democrats have written the rules of the House in such a way as to treat limited tariff benefits like other earmarks.”

The same definition is in place today.

Swinehart also pointed to a reformed process for consideration of the tariff bills, which includes a public comment period and an analysis by the International Trade Commission of how many entities would benefit.

Republicans could change the rules to exclude limited tariff bills from the definition of earmarks, but trying to do so could cause a potentially ugly fight.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, (R-Ohio) said “the House has an earmark ban and that will continue.”

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify Camp’s description of the tariff proposals.

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