DETROIT - Wallace Smith hadn't been to Washington his entire career.
Now, Smith, the owner of Plymouth, Mich., auto supplier E&E Manufacturing Co. Inc., is a frequent visitor. Smith and other suppliers think their industry's lack of lobbying was one of the reasons President Bush enacted steel tariffs last March.
The tariffs, which suppliers say have raised prices and created supply problems, have rallied the normally low-key industry into action. Auto suppliers haven't been able to pass the price increase onto automakers, which routinely demand price cuts.
They don't want to get caught flat-footed again. "To be perfectly honest, the first time I was in Washington was (last) year to start becoming politically active, and now it seems like I'm there all the time," Smith said. "Washington needs to understand the role of manufacturing."
Small and large suppliers only recently realized the clout they could have. But suppliers historically have relied on the automakers - such as Ford Motor Co., General Motors and DaimlerChrysler - to carry the ball inside the Beltway.
"Our interests are not always going to be the same," said Ana Lopes, director of government relations for the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association. "I think, in some ways, the steel tariff gave them the impetus to not only be more active but develop their own voice. It was the first time a lot of these companies have worked through the trade association and on their own."