fresh voices from the front lines of change







California Representative John Garamendi held a conference call today to build support for H.R. 949, The Invest in American Jobs Act of 2013, with the Campaign for America’s Future’s Robert Borosage and Dave Johnson. This bill, introduced last week, has bipartisan support and a goal that many Americans can get behind: ensuring that all the materials that go into taxpayer funded infrastructure investments be produced in America, creating American jobs.

“We need to make it clear that when we spend American taxpayer money, we are spending it on Americans,” said Rep. Garamendi, “we can then make significant progress on jobs.”

According to the summary of The Invest in American Jobs Act, the bill would help regain many of the 1.8 million construction jobs lost since the beginning of the recession, and help the approximately 24 million people who have lost their jobs. It would do this in several ways:

  1. Requiring that all of the steel, iron and other goods used in infrastructure investment would be produced in the United States,
  2. Increasing the required amount of American-sourced material in rolling stock (rail cars) from 60% under current law to 100% by 2017,
  3. Applying “Buy America” standards to infrastructure investments that are not under these requirements, and
  4. Requiring that any proposed waiver of “Buy America” standards have a public notice and allowing public commentary on the waiver before it takes effect.

This bill also provides $102 billion over the next two years for the funding of public transportation infrastructure projects.

Buy America and Made-in-America programs are incredibly popular. According to Consumer Reports, 78% of Americans would choose an American-made product over a similar product made overseas. Four out of five of those cited that American keeping American manufacturing strong and as a global player was a primary concern of theirs in their purchase. Even the quality of the American product is seen as superior worldwide, as a Boston Consulting Group study found that 60% of Chinese respondents would choose the American product over the cheaper Chinese version.

Representative Garamendi responded to this popularity, citing that even in the most conservative pockets of California’s 3rd District, Buy America policies got rousing applause. This is something that has universal popularity, a rare policy that American liberals and Tea Partiers can agree upon.

Also, they work. We have evidence that these policies are boosting manufacturing, and enacting these policies would only further help a recovering American economy.

Campaign for America’s Future co-director Bob Borosage introduced Rep. Garamendi, putting the issue in a broader context, saying that we need to put Americans back to work, and this is one such strategy to get Americans back into the workforce. “Our political debate is now over fixing the debt, not fixing the economy,” Borosage said.

“Let’s be clear,” Rep. Garamendi said, “America has lost 9 million manufacturing jobs over the last 25 years, we have seen the closings in the heart of America’s manufacturing sector that have led that area to have the title of the Rust Belt. National and state policies led to these closures, rewarding groups that shipped jobs overseas. Our strategy is to spend tax money on American equipment that would support American jobs.”

Reinvesting in jobs would also boost the American economy as a whole.

Garamendi went on to cite an example of his own state violating Buy America, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system choosing a bid that had 65% of American-made products over a bid that had 90% American. It did this by applying for a waiver that would allow them to bypass these Buy America standards. This choice saved BART $1 billion, but at the same time, that money could have been spent on American products and jobs, and the impact of those jobs being created could have offset the price difference. Since then, Garamendi helped implement a program where American products would get preferential treatment in contracts awarded by California infrastructure projects.

Preference does not mean absolute 100% American however, because the state could apply for a waiver to go for cheaper rail cars and steel. The Invest in American Jobs Act closes this loophole. The bill would require waivers to pass by the public, and Garamendi said that he wanted to make sure that the waivers that did pass the public scrutiny were “absolutely essential.”

Borosage warned that despite the American popularity, these policies face a fierce foreign lobby to prevent them. When asked about the groups that would be lining up against these changes in policy, Representative Garamendi called out foreign steel groups as being the primary culprits in attempting to lobby over this law. “They know that we would be taking American taxpayer money and spending it on Americans, rather than buying their product,” he said.

This a bill that has broad support in all levels of American politics, and one that could get American jobs back on track, as long as it is not derailed by foreign interests. If you also support this bill, call your representative to ensure that it gets to the president’s desk.

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