It would be easy to write off 2007 as an
unproductive year for the steel industry's legislative agenda,
given that it never got its trade law bill introduced while an
emissions cap-and-trade bill it hates is gaining steam.
But steel industry lobbyists aren't hanging
their heads. To the contrary, most are pleased with the
progress they made in 2007 and are positively upbeat in their
outlook for 2008.
"We're very optimistic about (2008)," one top
industry lobbyist said. "Much progress was made in building
support for our trade agenda. There has been recognition on the
part of new members and senior members of Congress on the need
to address China. We feel very good about the goodwill we've
built (in 2007) and the prospect of moving the ball forward (in
Trade policy remains the overriding issue for
the steel community. It's also the area in which most steel
industry lobbyists feel they made the most progress in 2007.
Capitol Hill insiders have been waiting patiently for Rep.
Charles B. Rangel (D., N.Y.), chairman of the powerful House
Ways and Means Committee, and Rep. Sander Levin (D., Mich.),
chairman of the subcommittee on trade, to introduce a trade
enforcement bill. So far nothing. But expectations are for
change in 2008. If and when it is introduced, the bill is
expected to include several components favored by the steel
industry, including a statutory change clarifying that
countervailing duties can be applied to non-market economies
like China and a guarantee that the United States can continue
to use zeroing when calculating anti-dumping duties.
"Something will pass in 2008, even if only
for political reasons," one trade lawyer said about a potential
trade bill. "If the Democrats don't pass anything, they'll be
endangering many of their freshman members in the House. For a
quarter of them, trade issues were the reason they were elected
and the leadership knows they have to do something."
The controversy over the value of the yuan is
an issue that seems as old as money itself. The year was
particularly frustrating for those in favor of penalizing
Chinese imports for the country's alleged manipulation of the
yuan. A widely accepted theory is that the Chinese keep the
yuan artificially low by buying up foreign currencies, thereby
greasing their export-oriented economy while making imports
more expensive to Chinese consumers.
It's worth noting that 2007 was the first
time since the 1990s that Democrats-considered by and large
more sympathetic to the cause, although plenty of Republicans
also are supportive-had control over powerful Senate committees
where bills related to the currency issue would be hammered
out. The problem? Too many committees wanted control and
infighting turned to gridlock.
Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), chairman of the
Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D.,
Conn.), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, continued to
fight over which committee should have jurisdiction over the
issue. Both sides marked up their bills and were said to be
working out compromise legislation that would penalize imports
in some way. That could enjoy wide congressional support, even
though it's likely to meet resistance from the Bush
On the House side, the long-suffering
Ryan-Hunter bill has amassed more than 100 signatures, but
despite positive remarks about the bill Rangel hasn't yet moved
it forward. "He's said supportive things about it, so it could
be expected that that could move on its own or be folded into a
larger trade enforcement bill," one lobbyist said.
It's hard to say what's going to happen with
the cap-and-trade bill introduced by Sen. John Warner (R., Va.)
and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D., Conn.), but most industry
lobbyists agree the smart money is on the bill not passing in
2008. There are several reasons. First and foremost, Senate
Democrats would need to break a promised filibuster by Sen.
James Inhofe (R., Okla.), a global warming skeptic. It's
unlikely they'll have the votes to do so. Even if they did, the
Democrats might want to wait until after the 2008 presidential
election, when they expect a Democrat to be sitting in the Oval
"Without President Bush taking any firm
leadership on this issue, it's hard to imagine any real
progress," one source said. "At the end of the day, 2007 and
2008 may be seen as the years when the basis for the
legislation is set out. The Democrats may want to keep it as a
The steel industry, meanwhile, remains
opposed to the legislation, even after major U.S. aluminum
companies expressed their support. The American Iron and Steel
Institute testified before Congress that while the industry
wasn't saying the door was completely shut on the idea of a
cap-and-trade program, it is unimpressed with provisions in the
bill designed to help industry and protect it from injurious
A markup is expected to be a monumental
process, with a flurry of amendments being offered to the
already complex legislation.
Separately, Rep. John D. Dingell (D., Mich.),
chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has
circulated a white paper talking about what a cap-and-trade
program might look like and has promised more. "We've not seen
anything since . . . but we should expect a climate
approach, whether it's cap-and-trade or something else, early
in 2008," one lobbyist said.