Top business groups urge Senate passage of customs bill

Two of the nation’s largest business groups are urging the Senate to pass a customs enforcement measure that has been held up for nearly two months over a tax policy disagreement.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers sent key vote letters to senators ahead of an expected Thursday vote on the customs conference report arguing that the 10-year bill would save them billions of dollars a year.

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"Customs reauthorization would make improvements to address cross-border friction, smooth the flow of trade and ensure efficient delivery of inputs and final products," wrote Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs at the Chamber of Commerce. 

The Chamber has said that the measure was a top legislative priority and was ripe for completion.

The House passed the measure 256-158 on Dec. 11.

The groups argue that implementing the reforms to customs and border policies will increase U.S. business competitiveness of and "unleash the potential for small- and medium-sized businesses to access foreign markets."

Led by Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinDems gain upper hand on budget McConnell: Senate could drop flood money from spending bill Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears MORE (D-Ill.), several senators vowed to stop passage of the customs bill over the inclusion of a measure that permanently bans Internet access taxes. 

This week, Durbin reached an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellHouse, Senate leaders urge states to bolster election cybersecurity How the White House got rolled on the Saudi-9/11 bill Obama administration officials ramp up push for Pacific pact MORE (R-Ky.) to let the customs bill move with the guarantee that legislation that would ensure states collect sales taxes from online businesses would be considered.

“Outdated customs and border policies are costing manufacturers billions of dollars a year in increased operating costs and unfair competition, while also preventing manufacturers from moving their products in and out of the United States efficiently,” said Aric Newhouse, senior vice president of policy and government relations with NAM, in the letter first sent on Dec. 11. 

“Existing customs rules have not kept pace with the growth and changes in trade or fully embraced technological advances, leading to bottlenecks at the border that impede the just-in-time manufacturing process," Newhouse wrote.