Manufacturers Focus on Reforming Tax Code and Reducing Barriers to Trade

Catherine Hollander

Manufacturers are, naturally, the biggest stakeholders in the committee’s discussion of improving the manufacturing sector.

The number of manufacturing workers remains well below prerecession levels, at nearly 12 million, roughly 2 million fewer than in early 2007. Job growth has been disappointingly slow across the board during the recovery, but getting the manufacturing sector growing has been made more difficult by the advent of new technology. Some economists say it will simply take fewer workers to make the same products.

The National Association of Manufacturers, made up of 12,000 manufacturing companies, is the most prominent advocate for policies that benefit the sector. NAM spent more than $9.1 million on lobbying efforts last year, more than any manufacturing entity other than General Electric, which spent about $19 million, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.

Manufacturers and associations that represent them tend to focus on several broad policy goals: Reforming the tax code, reducing trade barriers, and removing regulations they consider burdensome.

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Taxes are a major focus. NAM is urging Congress to lower the corporate income-tax rate, adopt a territorial tax system (exempting U.S. corporations’ foreign earnings from U.S. taxes), and implement a permanent research and development tax incentive. But with analysts at Eurasia Group, a global political-risk research and consulting firm, putting the odds of tax reform before the 2014 midterms at one in three in a recent note, NAM may spend 2013 focusing on its other goals.


Trade is a big one. This year, completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and beginning U.S.-E.U. trade talks will be the focus. With respect to the latter, NAM President Jay Timmons laid out his group’s broad-strokes priorities in a letter to President Obama: ensuring there are no “duplicative and contradictory” regulations and rules across the Atlantic as well as more generally “improving rules on trade facilitation, investment, and intellectual property.”

NAM’s other legislative goals run the gamut, ranging from expanding wireless networks and modernizing the electrical grid to promoting so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and opposing the goals of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to unionize.