WASHINGTON—A United States congressman seems to be pushing for protectionism south of the border with a new bill aimed at preserving America’s fragile manufacturing sector.
In what looks like a pseudo-amendment to the longstanding Buy America Act, Congressman John Garamendi (Democrat—Fairfield, Calif.) is busy campaigning for the Invest in American Jobs Act of 2013, a bill that looks to tighten up provisions of mandatory minimum American content for publicly-funded transportation and infrastructure projects.
“This is a critical policy for America, both for the deficit as well as for American jobs and American businesses,” said Garamendi, who co-sponsored the bill.
Under the proposed legislation, all manufactured goods used in new highway, bridge, public transit, rail and aviation infrastructure and equipment projects would be produced in the U.S., and domestic content requirements for public transit rolling stock and federally-procured aviation facilities would be increased from 60 per cent under current law to 100 per cent by 2017.
On a conference call Garamendi took aim at the soon-to-open east span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which was constructed in part using thousands of tonnes of Chinese-made steel, as well as new public transit trains for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system being built by Bombardier Transportation.
Garamendi claims BART received a bid from Alstom Transport that included provisions for 90 per cent American-made content, but elected for the Bombardier bid, which called for approximately 65 per cent American content, due to lower overall cost.
“That’s a difference of about $1-billion of American jobs that (were) lost,” he said.
Garamendi was joined on the call by Dave Johnson and Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future, a self-proclaimed “strategy centre for the progessive movement.”
Johnson, who spoke briefly on the call, was also critical of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge but focused on a larger scale of negative impact he said the contract and others like it could have.
“The Chinese steel company used that contract to finance modern innovation, so now they are out there beating U.S. companies in bids to build bridges around the world,” he said.
The proposed legislation also calls for the closing of alleged loopholes in the Buy America Act that allow federal agencies to apply for waivers if domestically-made goods are more expensive than an identical foreign-sourced product by a certain percentage, or if the domestic product isn’t available in adequate quality or quantity.
“We need to close the loopholes (and) we need to make it clear that when we’re spending American taxpayer money or (state) taxpayer money, then that money’s going to be spent on American jobs,” Garamendi said.
Closing these so-called loopholes and increasing domestic content requirements would not only create jobs and stimulate growth, but would help reduce the deficit, according to the congressman.
And while the deficit should be a focus of a plan for America’s future, Borosage said any such plan should include a strategy focused on manufacturing and trade “to end the unsustainable imbalances in trade and to make things in America once more.
“This country definitely needs a serious strategy to make this economy work for working people (again),” he said. “We have an economy in which wages are still falling and the middle class is still sinking.”
As the proposed bill winds its way through the legislative processes, Garamendi said he will continue to champion the effort with his eyes solely fixed on one goal.
“We want 100 per cent (American-made),” Garamendi said. “We’re not going to settle for anything less than 100 per cent here.”