In the wake of recent scandals, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are hurrying to draft legislation to crack down on activities by lobbyists—and legislators. Senate and House Republican leaders on Jan. 17 announced outlines of their plans. They include more disclosure by lobbyists and grassroots organizations; restricting lawmakers’ lobbyist-funded travel; tougher limits on gifts; and expanding the moratorium on lawmakers-turned-lobbyists from contacting former colleagues. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and some others also want to put clamps on “earmarks”—many of which are for construction—inserted in spending bills. That could be a tougher sell, particularly to veteran Appropriations Committee members.

GOP leaders want to move rapidly. House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) aims to have his panel vote Feb. 1 to bar former House members from the chamber floor. He says floor action on other lobbying restrictions could come in March. “Politically, the House and Senate need to do something,” says Steve Hall, vice president of government affairs for the American Council of Engineering Companies. “They know they have a problem and they need to react quickly.”

Election-year partisanship may affect the pace. Brian Crawford, Associated  Builders & Contractors’ senior director for legislative affairs, says Democrats would prefer to see lobbying bills “drag on to make it a campaign issue in 2006. Republicans [would] like to see it done sooner rather than later.”

“I don’t see how they cannot address lobbying reform as [lobbyist Jack] Abramoff’s information continues to unfold,” says Jeffrey  D. Shoaf,  senior executive director for government and public affairs for the Associated General Contractors. He thinks that for associations, changes in lobbying regulations could result in making member firms’ executives “a more integral part of all the lobbying campaigns.”

McCain, who introduced a lobbying bill in December, says adding restrictions for lobbyists “is addressing symptoms” of the main problem, which he contends is earmarking. “My policy preference would be to ban all earmarking,” he says. At a minimum, he wants to halt having items that were not in earlier versions of legislation suddenly appear in final bills.

Hall says what may emerge is controlling the number of specified projects “in terms of relevance to the bill that is carrying the earmarks.”

Lumber: Canada Seeks End to U.S. Antidumping Duties
The Canadian government has challenged the latest U.S. antidumping duty on imports of softwood lumber, the latest move in a lengthy dispute between the two countries. In a Jan. 11 filing with a North American Free Trade Agreement panel, Canada argues that the U.S. countervailing duty rate on its lumber should be eliminated. In December, the U.S. Commerce Dept. set a rate of 8.7%, down from 16.4%. Its review covered the year ended March 31, 2004. The Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports, a U.S. industry group, has filed a lawsuit in the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., contending the NAFTA dispute panel system is unconstitutional. It outlined its objections in a brief filed Jan. 17.�

Cement: U.S., Mexico Discuss Imports
U.S. and Mexican officials are trying to settle an extended trade fight over cement imports. Negotiators met in Mexico City on Jan. 10, a Commerce Dept. spokesman says. In Washington, D.C., on Jan. 17, officials �continued an ongoing dialogue...on several issues....Progress continues to be made,� he says, but would not reveal whether cement was a topic. Cement talks have occurred �on and off since 1992,� says Joe Dorn, spokesman for the Southern Tier Cement Committee, which includes 23 U.S. cement companies. �This time [they] seem to be making substantial progress.� Commerce set antidumping duties on Mexican cement in 1990. Its latest rate, announced Jan. 12, is 42%, down from 55% the year before. In 2005, U.S. imports of Mexican cement totaled 1.6 million metric tons, worth $66.8 million.

Hurricanes: Two� Gulf Refineries Remain Closed
More than four months after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, two Louisiana refineries still are shut due to damage. The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association reported on Jan. 13 that ConocoPhillips� Belle Chasse facility and Murphy Oil�s refinery in Meraux are closed. But NPRA says that operations at the Murphy Oil facility will be re-started in the first quarter. The group also reports that three other refineries hit by Hurricane Rita are operating at reduced rates.