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Conservative Group Blasts Tariff ‘Earmarks’

A conservative group issued a memo blasting a proposal by House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) to pursue a miscellaneous tariff bill in possible violation of the House earmark ban.

But while the memo from the Conservative Action Project lists a broad array of fellow conservative organizations behind the message, the effort inadvertently highlighted a rift on the right over the issue as Americans for Tax Reform quickly distanced itself from the document.

At issue are about 1,300 duty suspension bills that Members have proposed for a miscellaneous tariff bill. Critics say the vast majority of the proposals are clear violations of the House ban on earmarks, while supporters say they do not violate the rules.

Referring to the debate, the memo says “an earmark is an earmark is an earmark” and that the Camp proposal would invite corruption.

“Alarmingly, the Ways and Means Committee is asking lawmakers to self-certify that their requests are not in violation of the very specific language of the moratorium. It is a nearly impossible task for small congressional offices, which must then rely on the assertions of the very lobbyists whose companies would benefit from the sought-after MTB,” the memo says.

Ways and Means spokeswoman Sarah Swinehart noted that the International Trade Commission will review the tariff bills regarding how many entities will benefit in addition to the preliminary disclosure forms filed by Members.

The top of the memo lists 26 conservative leaders, and a spokesman for the CAP said all had signed on to the memo.

But Grover Norquist, president of ATR — which had previously supported Camp on the issue — moved to distance his group from the document.

Contacted by Roll Call about the memo, Norquist said, “ATR is strongly supportive of the Camp tariff reduction legislation. Tariffs are taxes … not spending.” The group quickly posted a statement on its website reiterating its support.

“I was told this was a letter arguing against restoring spending earmarks,” Norquist said.

The CAP spokesman said “all organizations represented signed on to that memo. If one organization has a second thought later, that’s understandable when you have 27 organizations signing on.”

Other leaders listed on the memo include top officials from Citizens Against Government Waste, the Club for Growth, the Family Research Council, American Values and Heritage Action for America.

Beneath the list, the memo says: “All organizations listed for Identification purposes only.”

Camp’s push for the bill 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 are not permitted to provide spending earmarks in appropriations bills.

Camp argues that 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.

Critics have pointed to eight bills introduced by Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) that would benefit a company in his district owned by a top campaign donor. And a Heritage Action analysis showed the vast majority of the 1,300 bills would benefit 10 entities or less, thus fitting the House definition of “earmark” for tariff bills.

The miscellaneous tariff bill process “specifically requires Members disclose whether the benefits of the provisions are broadly available and therefore not earmarks,” Swinehart has said.

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