The ‘Buy America’ Trump Test

Dave Johnson

Republicans in Congress are pushing to strip “Buy America” provisions from a bill to help fix the country’s water systems. Republican President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on government help for American manufacturing and jobs. So this is an early test: Will Trump step up and tell House Republicans to keep “Buy America” in the bill, or will he continue to follow the Wall Street/Big Corporate/billionaire agenda his transition has indicated is coming?

Water Infrastructure

The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) usually passes every two years. This one authorizes 25 critical Army Corps projects in 17 states. Of particular note, “The bill also responds to the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, by providing emergency assistance to Flint and other similar communities across the country facing drinking water contamination.”

The WRDA bill had been held up (obstructed) over Republican objections to things like helping boost jobs under President Obama, helping Flint, and infrastructure spending generally. It eventually passed both houses of Congress but with different versions. Now it is held up again in the House as Speaker Ryan tries to strip provisions requiring the purchase of American-made materials like iron and steel from American manufacturers.

The Hill explains, in “Fight over ‘Buy America’ provision erupts in Congress“:

At issue is language included in the Senate-passed version of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that would require American iron and steel products be used in projects assisted by the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.

Sources familiar with the negotiations say Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is actively pushing to strip the provision from the bill.

Supporters of the provision say Ryan’s push is at odds with President-elect Donald Trump’s promise to support American manufacturers and create jobs for the middle class.

Buy America

“Buy America” provisions in taxpayer-funded projects mean that our taxpayer dollars do not “leak out” of the country to help non-US competitors and stimulate non-US economies, moving jobs out of the country, etc. The dollars help US companies maintain their capacities, and keep US workers employed.

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown (Ohio) is circulating a letter in Congress explaining,

“Buy America is an important job-creating provision. … As a result, companies will have incentives to invest in domestic manufacturing facilities, and U.S. taxpayer dollars will support American manufacturers,” the letter says, according to a copy obtained by The Hill.

“Removing the Buy America provisions from the [Drinking Water State Revolving Fund] will have the opposite effect. An opportunity to support and grow U.S. manufacturers will be squandered.”

Multinational Corporations And Wall Street Object To “Buy America”

Corporate- and Wall Street-backed conservative lobbying organizations oppose using federal money to boost American manufacturers, pay reasonable union wages and protect the environment. They say this places a “burden” on their profit-making. The Heritage Foundation, for example, objects to “Davis–Bacon wage requirements, “Buy America” provisions, and extensive environmental review processes.” (The Davis-Bacon Act is a 1931 law that requiring that “prevailing wages” be paid on public works projects. Corporations want to pay minimum wage.) The US Chamber of Commerce also opposes “‘Buy America’ mandates.”

The “Buy America” fight goes to the core of Trump’s campaign promises to working-class voters. He promised to boost American manufacturing and American jobs. The corporations and billionaires that back the Republicans (and make up Trump’s cabinet so far) want just the opposite.

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