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Scott Paul: Buy American laws have loopholes

REP. Nick Joe Rahall, D-W.Va., deserves praise - not scorn as in the Daily Mail's March 7 editorial, "Rahall's bill would hurt the economy" - for introducing the "Invest in American Jobs Act," a bill to close massive loopholes in our Buy America laws.

Ask any West Virginian this simple question:

Do you think taxpayer-funded construction projects should use American-made goods whenever possible?

Now, ask another question: Do you want your tax dollars being shipped to China to buy goods that are made here at home at a comparable price?

You are fooling yourself if you don't already know the answer and will be lucky to exit that conversation without a heated argument.

Last summer, pollsters rang the homes of voters across America to ask this exact question.

The answer was pretty clear-cut: 87 percent of Republicans, 87 percent of independents, and 91 percent of Democrats agree that Buy America is a good idea.

Beyond the strong desire of American taxpayers, who are ultimately the customers, there are numerous reasons for our federal and state governments to Buy American.

Let's stop the vicious cycle of borrowing from China. Instead, let's encourage pro-growth policies here at home.

By encouraging firms to set up shop in the United States in exchange for access to our large procurement market, we promote capital investment and, in turn, expand the tax base. By hiring workers, we lower the burden on social safety net programs.

Next, we can create more manufacturing jobs by maximizing domestic content in our infrastructure investments - 33 percent more, according to research conducted by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Finally, we should reward American companies that meet our standards for clean air, clean water, and safe workplaces.

Domestic producers are often subjected to government-subsidized imports from China where companies are held to much lower standards. When we bypass American manufacturers for goods made elsewhere, we are rewarding those companies that have moved their operations, investment dollars, and jobs to foreign countries.

The Daily Mail claims that Buy America preferences can increase costs, launch trade wars, and spur protectionism. But these notions merely regurgitate the talking points made by well-funded interest groups that support business models based on outsourcing to China.

First, Buy America policy is fully compliant with America's trade obligations and would in no way start a trade war.

In fact, Buy America doesn't even apply when other countries agree to open their own procurement market to our goods. Reciprocity is rewarded.

And, for the record, the United States has the most open market of any in the world. China, as you might guess, is the most closed.

Second, Buy America does not apply when short-term market limitations exist. For example, a rarely used waiver is available to protect the taxpayer should the cost of using an American-made good prove unreasonable.

When American companies get a first shot at procurement, Washington rarely needs to shop elsewhere.  

Sadly, your opinion that our "manufacturers should learn how to compete in China" is ill formed.

Possibly, you wish to endorse a state-run, communist system - like the one in China - that completely disregards basic environmental controls, treats workers poorly, steals trade secrets through cyber hacking, subsidizes state-owned companies, and manipulates its currency in violation of international trade obligations?

Please, no more outsourcing. West Virginia has had enough of that.

American workers are the most productive in the world. They should be rewarded with common-sense Buy America policies that are free of loopholes and are applied with full transparency.

This is what Americans want and, the last time I checked, the customer is still right. In this case, the Daily Mail missed the mark.  

Kudos to Rep. Rahall for believing in American workers and for supporting Buy America.

Paul is president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing.


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