No one can accuse our friends on Capitol Hill of being a “do nothing Congress.” Just look at the progress of the business community’s legislative agenda. Before members of Congress left for their traditional August recess, they acted upon numerous pieces of legislation that will impact every sector of the U.S. economy. Chief among these is H.R. 3045, the Central American Free Trade Agreement-Dominican Republic (CAFTA-DR) Implementation Act.
At present, 80% of industrial and consumer goods and 99% of agricultural imports from the six CAFTA-DR countries enter the United States entirely duty-free. In order to level the playing field for U.S. businesses, CAFTA-DR would eliminate tariffs on 80% of U.S. manufactured goods as well as tariffs on 50% of U.S. agricultural exports immediately. The remaining tariffs will be phased out over a few years. SFA supported the elimination of Central American tariffs on substantially all goods and services and urged Congress to pass CAFTA-DR.
Reauthorization of the Highway Bill is another congressional accomplishment that will finance a number of building and repaving projects across the nation. As you may surmise, better roads mean less wear and tear on delivery vehicles. Otherwise H.R. 3, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005 is probably a better value to us for what is not in it. Due to SFA member efforts and those of many others, a proposal adopted by the U.S. House to require manufacturers to pay hefty fuel surcharges to motor carriers was expunged from the final measure. The fuel surcharge language was also an opportunity to open up nearly unlimited lawsuits against shippers alleging underpayment to carriers.
Elsewhere in the Highway Bill, House/Senate negotiators came very close to agreement on Hours of Service relief for short-haul operators, but in the end, it was
left out. The amendment would have allowed operators to take voluntary off-duty time, up to two hours during the workday. The measure was spear-headed by the Corporate Transportation Coalition (CTC), which is co-chaired by SFA.
A third bill has a more direct impact on business costs. According to the White House, the Energy Policy Act (H.R. 6) is a comprehensive energy plan to encourage conservation and energy efficiency; expand the use of alternative and renewable energy; increase the domestic production of conventional fuels; and invest in modernization of our energy infrastructure. Of special interest to the snack food industry is a provision sought by the CTC and others that permits tax credits for the purchase of medium and heavy commercial hybrid vehicles.
When the members of Congress return from their break, they likely will endorse legislation in the House and Senate that would address frivolous lawsuits that claim a plaintiff’s obesity or weight gain is the responsibility of a person who sells food. If certain liability protections can be approved for gunmakers (which were), Congress can reasonably shield food manufacturers as well.
SFA has worked tirelessly to get the pro-business, pro-snack food agenda enacted. Through individual member calls, Capitol Hill visits during Day in DC, and SFA staff efforts in the corridors of Congress, we will continue to ensure that government policy works to our advantage.
Robert J. Shearer
Chairman of the Board