Sens. McCaskill, Portman join on tariff proposal

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, who faces a tough re-election bid in Missouri, teamed up Wednesday with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman — an oft-mentioned potential Republican vice presidential candidate — to push for a new way of relaxing tariffs on some materials imported by U.S. manufacturers.

The senators said they hoped their proposal could be debated in the coming days as an amendment to a business bill pending in the Senate. McCaskill also has filed the tariff measure as a stand-alone bill with 20 Republican co-sponsors, including Portman and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky.

McCaskill and Portman said the measure is intended to quash what they described an earmark-like process in which U.S. businesses needing materials that are not made domestically must persuade a lawmaker to file a bill to temporarily reduce or suspend the tariff on the imported item. Ultimately, the various special requests are rolled into what is dubbed as a miscellaneous tariff bill.

Instead, McCaskill and Portman want businesses or lawmakers to be able to file such tariff requests with the U.S. International Trade Commission, which would evaluate them and submit a draft bill for Congress to consider. They said some senators may block a vote on this year's miscellaneous tariff bill as leverage to consider the proposed changes to the tariff process for future years.

"This is about some senators getting together on a bipartisan basis and doing something that is very essential to success in the Senate, and that is compromise," said McCaskill, who has made her desire for bipartisan compromise a central theme of her re-election campaign against a Republican primary field that has pledged to stand firm for conservative principles.

"We will fix this problem going forward, so it is no longer an earmark, but you've got to deal with us on reform in order for us to stand aside and let the other bill move," she added.

Portman said it's important for tariffs to be relaxed on certain materials, such as chemicals used in manufacturing, in order for U.S. businesses to be able to create jobs. The proposed change in the means of doing so "cleans up what is now a lobbyist-driven process," he said. Instead, the proposal "creates a transparent, merit-driven process."

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