This summer, the U.S. International Trade
Commission (ITC) took some heat during a two-day hearing on
whether to maintain import duties on, appropriately, hot-rolled
steel. Thanks to a large turnout by lawmakers, it was the most
action the ITC had seen since its marathon hearing last fall on
whether to continue duties on corrosion-resistant steel, which
resulted in one of the longest single-day hearings in ITC
The hearing that began July 31 was special
because 26 lawmakers-ranging from well-known Sen. Arlen Specter
(R., Pa.) and Sen. Evan Bayh (D., Ind.) to lesser-known
politicians like Alabama's Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr.-appeared in
support of the domestic industry. The hearing took place during
one of the busiest weeks to date for the 110th Congress,
underscoring the importance of the issue to lawmakers.
Seasoned trade lawyers said it was the
largest contingent of lawmakers to appear before the ITC since
the epic Section 201 hearings. But their testimony was
repetitious, leaving some to wonder whether parading so many
lawmakers might ultimately work against the domestic industry.
Advocates for continuing the duty orders wondered whether
having so many lawmakers speak was annoying the commissioners
since they took up so much time.
The lawmakers that appeared told similar
stories of families that had lost their jobs because of unfair
trade. Almost all of them said Congress supported the U.S.
steel industry because it believed that having a strong
domestic steel industry is vital to national security. The
lawmakers' testimony took more than three hours, and was
capable of boring even the most fervent political junkie. The
senators entered as quickly as they left, stopping only for
photos with members of the United Steelworkers union, who were
called in by union president Leo Gerard.
So how much weight does testimony from
lawmakers have with the ITC?
"The truth is, no one knows," a trade
attorney said. Appearing before the ITC is probably useful for
members of Congress because it educates them about the trade
remedy process, he said, but doesn't add a lot to the record of
investigation. Some may even hurt their cause by testifying.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D., W.Va.), a regular at ITC hearings
involving steel, might be an example. He lectured the
commission about how to do their jobs, spelling out to them
exactly what information they should and should not
"The Department of Commerce has already
determined that dumped and subsidized trade is likely to recur
if these orders are revoked, and now your legal responsibility
is to determine whether or not that unfair trade is likely to
materially injure this industry," he said. "It is not your
responsibility to evaluate how well the steel industry is doing
now compared to how it was doing a few years ago, nor to
speculate as to how maintenance of the subject orders is likely
to affect other industries." Rockefeller went on to list the
legal standards of the commission, information that should be
apparent to the commissioners, and noted that Capitol Hill
considered the trade laws "a joke."
Although Rockefeller received many pats on
the back from union members as he left the commission hearing,
it is difficult to see how talking down to the commissioners,
many of whom have years of experience, will help the domestic
industry's cause, or how telling the commissioners that
Congress doesn't respect the nation's trade laws, which the ITC
has such a crucial role in shaping, will give weight to his
testimony or that of any other lawmaker.
Still, the trade lawyer said that while some
commissioners might be offended by being lectured, most are
probably not swayed one way or another. "It probably doesn't
hurt, and might help." He said the domestic industry should
continue to beat on the door of members of the House and Senate
Steel Caucus because their presence could only help the
The value of the testimony depends on its
content, he added. "(Rep.) Artur Davis (D., Ala.) was
particularly good in his statements during the original
hot-rolled case on Japan, Brazil and Russia. He gave a very
eloquent statement on his own experience."
It is a more recent phenomenon to bring in
representatives of individual states. During the
corrosion-resistant hearing, for example, the governor of
Oregon sent a representative to add his support to renewal of
the duties; during the hot-rolled case, Alabama's Folsom showed
up. It is even more unclear what impact those lawmakers have on
the final outcome of cases, the lawyer said.