By CURT ANDERSON, AP Tax Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - The House this year will consider whether to reject the punitive tariffs on imported steel imposed by President Bush.
The resolution, sponsored by Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., is governed under rules that require the full House to deal with it this year. It would substitute Bush's tariffs of up to 30 percent with an International Trade Commission recommendation for tariffs no higher than 20 percent in the first year.
Jefferson, who represents a New Orleans district he said would be hurt by reduced imports, said Wednesday the tariffs represent a hidden tax on steel consumers and manufacturers, threaten jobs in steel-consuming industries and have sparked tension with U.S. trading partners.
He said the ITC recommendations also were too harsh but that Congress must choose between those two options under trade laws.
"Had we another remedy, I would propose it," Jefferson said.
The measure faces a difficult political road in the House, underscored by a Ways and Means Committee voice vote Wednesday that forwarded the resolution to the floor with a negative recommendation.
"Passage of this resolution would send a message to the world that it is open season on the American manufacturing base," said Rep. Phil English, R-Pa.
The steel industry and steelworker unions have broad support in Congress among both Democrats and Republicans. The industry is also concentrated in states crucial to winning the White House, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan and New York.
Under House rules, the measure must be considered within 90 days of Bush's March 5 announcement, not counting weekends or recesses. No amendments are in order and floor debate is limited to 20 hours.
The Senate has similar rules, but no similar resolution has been introduced in that chamber.
Also Wednesday, English introduced a bill in which the federal government would assume certain steel retiree health care benefits to reduce the costs arising from industry consolidation and restructuring. Total domestic steel unfunded pension and health benefit obligations total $13 billion, English said.
This relief, which Bush rejected, would be paid for in part by duties on imported basic steel products.