Buy America

Leo Gerard

For a brief moment, when Congress authorized that $700 billion bailout for the Wall Street wise guys whose recklessness caused the financial crisis that we’re all suffering, federal officials actually considered giving part of the money to foreign banks.

Really.

They quickly backed away from using American tax dollars to prop up overseas financial institutions.

But now, the same issue is at stake with the $825 billion economic recovery package. Fifteen groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable want to give American tax dollars to foreign manufacturers to create jobs overseas.

That’s right. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants to spend the tax dollars of unemployed Americans to create jobs in China and Indonesia, Korea and India.

The 15 business groups sent a letter to Congress opposing provisions added to the recovery package that would strengthen existing laws requiring government agencies buy American steel and other products when building public works projects with tax dollars.

The recovery package would use American tax dollars to pull the United States out of a deep recessionary hole caused by a blind belief that business knows best and shouldn’t be regulated – from banks to pharmaceutical manufacturers.

The package is, essentially, Americans agreeing to increase their national debt to revive an economy sucker punched by greedy Wall Street gamblers. So when business interests want to spend those tax dollars overseas, to create jobs there at the expense of unemployed Americans, while at the same time increasing the U.S. trade deficit, frankly, it looks a bit like treason.

To survive this economic catastrophe, Americans must assert themselves as economic patriots. They must stand up to the likes of the Chamber and the Roundtable and call them out for being economic traitors to the United States of America.

The measures proposed in Congress to strengthen the existing laws requiring that American products be purchased are simple, inexpensive and would not delay construction projects. For example, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown wants requests for waivers to the federal “Buy America” requirements to be publicly posted on the Internet in a place where people with knowledge of the situation can comment on them. That way, a government agency will likely quickly find out about attempts to use the waiver process to circumvent the rules.

The Chamber and the other business groups whine in their letter to Congress that strengthening “Buy America” rules may violate international agreements.

That’s bogus and the groups know it. America can honor its international obligations while using U.S. tax dollars to employ American workers. For example, states that receive federal grants for highway and mass transit projects may specify that products for that construction be purchased from U.S.-based producers without violating international agreements.

The Chamber and the other business groups also contended they were worried that strengthening the “Buy America” rules would prompt retaliation from foreign countries, so that U.S. companies would be prohibited from providing materials for construction funded by foreign stimulus programs.

When other nations nurture their industries and employ their own countrymen with their tax dollars, it won’t be retaliation. It will be reasonable. It will make good economic sense.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced in December that he would do whatever it took to save his country’s auto industry. No big protest broke out from anyone contending France should buy the auto parts from some low-priced American competitor. No, it seemed logical that France’s president would “buy French” and strive to rescue the industry that employs 10 percent of his population.

India already employs many protectionist measures to shield its industries. China subsidizes its manufacturers and manipulates its currency. But, somehow, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce thinks it’s wrong if U.S. tax dollars are spent in America to employ Americans.

These are the guys who were behind George W. Bush’s tax breaks for the rich these past eight years. These are the very ones whose wrongheaded policies brought America to its economic knees. And they are the business hotshots who don’t see that they’ve done anything wrong that should change.

Those Wall Street business wizards felt so entitled to Americans’ $700 billion in tax dollars given to bail them out that they spent it on $18 billion in year-end bonuses, a $16,000 commode and a $50 million Dassault Falcon 7X manufactured-in-France corporate jet. (Well, the Obama administration did tell Citigroup it had to cancel that jet.)

Here’s the thing to remember about these business groups so worried about preserving “free” trade. A dozen of them put America or U.S. in their names, like the United States Council for International Business. But it’s not the U.S. they care about. Their focus is themselves.

Many of them long ago shipped manufacturing overseas, to benefit from tax breaks provided by the Bush administration, slave wages paid to third world workers and zero enforcement of safety and environmental regulations. That’s why they oppose “Buy America” regulations. They want to use American tax dollars to pay subsistence wages at their factories in foreign countries, then ship the steel or aluminum or rubber back to the U.S. at untold cost to the environment and the trade deficit.

You can trust ‘em same as you can Bernie Madoff.

What you can trust is that empty feeling in your stomach and your pocket, a pang that’s spreading quickly while the U.S. Chamber busies itself trying to thwart “Buy America.” More than 2.55 million Americans have been thrown out of work since Bush’s recession began. On Monday alone, companies announced they would cut 75,000 more jobs. Unemployment stands at 7.2 percent, and it is expected to rise to 10 percent before year’s end if drastic action isn’t taken.

Drastic action isn’t sending American tax dollars overseas to create jobs there.

Last year, the Government Accountability Office reported that “Buy America” policies are effective by “protecting domestic employment through national infrastructure improvements that can stimulate economic activity and create jobs; protecting against unfair competition from foreign firms as a result of foreign government subsidies; and maintaining national security interests through the continued use and development of certain industries within the U.S. economy, like the iron and steel industries.”

That sounds like a policy worth investing in. A policy good for America.

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