‘Buy America’ Spin

Sen. Tammy Baldwin goes too far when she says U.S. steelworkers were “left behind” last year by Republican leaders who killed her “buy America” bill.

Baldwin’s bill would have required U.S. steel to be used on projects funded by the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. It didn’t pass, but a separate provision in a water infrastructure bill that became law last year does exactly that for fiscal 2017. In fact, Congress has imposed the same buy American provision for drinking water projects every year since fiscal 2014.

Baldwin delivered the most recent Democratic weekly address, which she posted to her Twitter account on Aug. 6.

In the video, Baldwin discussed the party’s new slogan, “A Better Deal.” The Democrats “believe their ‘Better Deal’ platform of higher wages, child care support and job training will appeal to working families and those who abandoned the party last year to elect [President Donald] Trump,” the Los Angeles Times wrote.

As an example of the party’s commitment to U.S. workers, Baldwin discussed the fate of a bill she introduced last year called the Made in America Water Infrastructure Act. The bill would have amended the Safe Drinking Water Act to require that U.S. steel be used on projects funded by the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.

Baldwin, Aug. 6: In fact, I wrote Buy America legislation because I strongly believe American workers should build our infrastructure with American products, and taxpayer money should not be spent on iron and steel from foreign countries like China and Russia.

My Buy America reform passed the Senate with bipartisan support. But when it got to the House, the foreign steel companies bought Washington lobbyists to kill it. [House Speaker] Paul Ryan and [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell gave them what they wanted, and American workers were left behind again.

The senator’s bill wasn’t enacted into law, but she ignores what was done instead. Here’s a brief recap of what happened last year:

In the Senate, Baldwin’s bill became part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2016, which passed by a 95-3 vote on Sept. 15, 2016. So she is right when she says, “My Buy America reform passed the Senate with bipartisan support.”

But the House took a different approach. The House version of the bill imposed the buy American provision for fiscal 2017 only, instead of making it a permanent change. In doing so, the House bill extended the same buy American requirement that has been in place since fiscal year 2014.

On Dec. 8, the House passed its version of the bill — the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act — by a 360-61 vote, and two days later the Senate voted 78-21 for final approval. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on Dec. 16.

The senator’s office told us that she was seeking to provide the U.S. steel industry with a long-term solution by codifying the one-year requirement, making it permanent. Her office provided us with a statement from United Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard, who supports a permanent fix, describing Baldwin’s bill as “good, commonsense legislation.”

We understand her logic. But the senator goes too far when she says that U.S. steelworkers were “left behind” by Ryan and McConnell, when, in fact, Congress has enacted the same buy American provision — formally known as the American Iron and Steel (AIS) requirement — every year since fiscal year 2014.

Although Gerard, the head of the steelworkers union, would prefer a permanent fix, he also has said that the existing buy American provision “has been a tremendous success that has led to both job and production gains in the American water infrastructure products sector since its enactment in 2014.”

Baldwin also says that “taxpayer money should not be spent on iron and steel from foreign countries like China and Russia.” But, as has been the case since fiscal 2014, China and Russian steel cannot be used on public projects funded by the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund unless the local public entity first obtains a waiver to the AIS requirement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Also, the U.S. imports a relatively small amount of steel from China and Russia for all projects, public and private. By volume, only 6 percent of all U.S. steel imports in 2016 came from Russia and less than 3 percent came from China, according to the International Trade Administration in the Department of Commerce.

Canada accounted for the largest share of U.S. imports at 17 percent, and Mexico was fourth at 9 percent — so more than a quarter of imported steel comes from North America.

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“My Buy America reform passed the Senate with bipartisan support. But when it got to the House, the foreign steel companies bought Washington lobbyists to kill it. [House Speaker] Paul Ryan and [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell gave them what they wanted, and American workers were left behind again.”

Democratic Weekly Address
Sunday, August 6, 2017

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