WASHINGTON — The additional funding promised by President Clinton to beef up the Customs Service’s inspections of textile and apparel imports to fight transshipping could become a political football in South Carolina textile country.
Rep. Bob Inglis (R., S.C.) — a freshman seeking reelection in the Fourth District, which has more than 50,000 textile jobs — is among eight House members who have sponsored the North American Free Trade Agreement Pork Repeal Act of 1994. The legislation is aimed at killing the deals Clinton struck to win NAFTA votes.
Among those was a promise to Rep. John Spratt (D., S.C.), the House Textile Caucus chairman, to add $15 million to Customs’ 1995 budget to increase inspections of textiles and apparel imports. Clinton promised to add 50 Customs inspectors to work on NAFTA-related shipments, and 50 to work on all other textile and apparel imports. In response to this, Spratt voted for NAFTA. The administration has since upped the additional funding for Customs to $18 million.
The funding request still must be approved by Congress, and Inglis’s sponsorship of the pork repeal has yet to receive much publicity in South Carolina. However, indications are that Democrats are gearing to use his sponsorship against him in his reelection campaign.
An Inglis staffer said the Congressman endorsed it because it aims to “eliminate pork-barrel spending.”
Spratt, who is from the state’s Fifth District, has defended Clinton’s promises.
“The promises made by the President are important to Mr. Inglis’s constituency, and I don’t think he wants to see them undercut,” Spratt said. “Can we say to the President that he can’t bear down on transshipping, promulgate new Customs rules and regulations, and assign Customs agents to police textiles? It was completely normal for me to get written assurances from the President that if NAFTA was passed, the administration would police it.”
The American Textile Manufacturers Institute estimates that in 1993, almost 50,000 U.S. textile and apparel jobs were lost because of illegal Chinese imports.
Inglis’s district includes the headquarters of such firms as Milliken & Co., Mayfair Mills and Spartan Mills. His election received the backing of some of these firm’s executives, including Roger Milliken, chairman of Milliken, who continues through his Washington lobbyist Jock Nash to express unqualified support of the Congressman.
Nash said Tuesday: “I would sacrifice any number of Customs agents for good policy. Bob Inglis is a great American and one of the greatest supporters of the textile industry.”
However, the Congressman’s signing of the measure has drawn the ire of some other textile executives.
Bob Thompson, a vice president of Springs Industries Inc., Fort Mill, S.C., said Inglis seems to be “going in the wrong direction,” on his textile policy. Fort Mill is not in Inglis’s district, but some of Springs’ plants are there.
Henry Truslow 3rd, president of Sunbury Textile Mills Inc., Sunbury, Pa., and former president of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, said he was “astonished” at Inglis’s stance.
Inglis defeated former Textile Caucus chairman Liz Patterson (D., S.C.), when he was elected to Congress in 1992 and has credited a whistle-stop tour that then President George Bush made through his district with helping him win election. Now, Bush is scheduled to visit Inglis’s district today to help raise funds for his reelection.