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Politics above all

 

This is how Washington "works" these days: The two parties find a way to be at loggerheads over a bill that nearly all lawmakers fundamentally agree on. The result, in this case, is Democrats winning plaudits from Republicans’ traditional allies while many GOP lawmakers are left with glum looks on their faces.

So it went on Capitol Hill last week when the House of Representatives passed the U.S. Manufacturing Enhancement Act. The bill until very recently was called the Miscellaneous Trade and Technical Corrections Act of 2009; then the Democrats realized a more memorable name could put a shine on a very mundane piece of legislation.

This is one of those laws that need renewal periodically. When it came up in 2006, with the Republicans in control of the House, the vote approving the bill was 412-2.

How does this measure "enhance" manufacturing? By temporarily suspending or reducing tariffs on more than 600 imported items. Most are chemicals and components used by American manufacturers in production processes, things such as "certain synthetic staple fibers that are not carded, combed, or otherwise processed for spinning containing 2 percent or more but not over 3 percent of water" and "yarn of carded hair of Kashmir (cashmere) goats, of yarn count less than 19.35 metric, not put up for retail sale."

The provisions include an equally elaborate and detailed process designed to ensure that no benefits are granted at the expense of domestic manufacturers.

Its rather arcane language notwithstanding, this bill has the fervent support of groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers, which praised the House vote and said the measure would increase U.S. production by $4.6 billion and support nearly 90,000 jobs.

So why did more than 40 Republicans vote no? Their leaders said rules written by Democrats equated limited tariff benefits and special interest earmarks, which the GOP has vowed to oppose.

Nonsense, the Democrats replied. But one must assume they did not mind at all that this vote made the Democrats look like the true ally of U.S. manufacturers.

The bill now must be taken up by the Senate, where passage appears likely if not guaranteed. However, this much is certain: Politics alone will shape the final tally.

7/23/10 (c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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