- Last Updated: 5:08 AM, August 20, 2012
- Posted: 2:16 AM, August 20, 2012
WASHINGTON — It’s Washington’s newest form of pork.
Sneaky members of Congress — who only recently banned federal earmarks — are increasingly using a little-known method to deliver taxpayer cash to major companies in their home states: tariff-relief bills.
Once passed into law, the provisions allow companies to skirt import taxes.
And in the case of Rep. Steve Israel (D-LI), who has sponsored several such bills, a company that has benefitted from the maneuver is also a major campaign contributor.
This year, 1,297 bills are being considered — and are likely to be passed in the fall session.
That’s more than twice the number passed in 2010.
“It’s just an indicator of the problem with the system,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “Doing it in a cockamamie way every two years doesn’t serve the country — unless you are a lobbyist for one of the products. Then you say, ‘Yeah.’ ”
The New York City-area delegation has introduced 59 such bills this year — each worth up to $500,000 — covering a variety of items unavailable in the United States, from batteries to women’s shoes.
Israel has introduced 18 of them, including three that would remove the duty on certain batteries for defense contractor Honeywell International.
The company and its employees have contributed $36,000 to Israel’s campaigns between 2008 and 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Still, Israel defended the practice.
“Any business that can make a valid argument that they cannot get a specific component in America and the tariffs are unfair, whether they support me or oppose me, I will fight for them,” Israel said.
The Congressional Budget Office is still estimating how much the tariff breaks this year will be worth.
But in 2010, the 600 tariff-relief bills cost American taxpayers $298 million over 10 years, according to the Congressional Research Service.
This year, Israel and Sen. Charles Schumer introduced a bill providing $200,000 in tax relief on electrical sensors for Melville-based Leviton Manufacturing, according to US International Trade Commission records.
Schumer defended the move.
“Many of these tariffs are unfair to New York companies and New York jobs, and we try to do everything we can to help correct the inequities,” said Schumer, who has also introduced 24 tariff bills to remove duties on certain chemicals.
Another measure, submitted this year by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan), is for Ann Taylor stores, and applies to “leather footwear for women, with uppers other than pigskin, at $35 or higher.”
In all, she’s submitted 17 such bills in 2012.
Senate Republicans want the process changed so that companies would have to go through the International Trade Commission first to receive approvals.
Give me a (tax) break
Tariff-relief bills in Congress:
112th Congress (2012) —
and likely to pass
111th Congress (2010) —
110th Congress (2008) —