Capitol Hill Update: Transportation Bill and Buy America
As Congress works to reauthorize our surface transportation laws, every effort should be made to create jobs here in America. Supporting and strengthening Buy America preferences is the best way to ensure that domestic manufacturing companies and American workers benefit when hard-earned tax dollars are being spent on the nation’s infrastructure needs.
Buy America Improvements. H.R. 3533, the Invest in American Jobs Act, sponsored by Reps. Nick Rahall (WV) and Steven LaTourette seeks to strengthen our existing Buy America preferences, expand application to projects not currently covered, and require federal agencies to be more transparent in reporting where taxpayer dollars are being spent. Elements of H.R. 3533 have already received strong support in both the House and Senate, but with a final bill still hanging in the balance securing inclusion of these improvements remains a top priority for American manufacturers and their workers:
• House Action: During the House Transportation and Infrastructure markup of the highway bill, an amendment offered by Rep. Chip Cravaack (MN) was adopted that increases transparency of waivers of Buy America preferences before they are granted, requires annual reporting on the use of such waivers (including justification and monetary value), and closes a “segmentation” loophole that leaves the door open to evasion of Buy America by splitting a project into multiple pieces and applying federal dollars only to some.
• Senate Action: During the Senate’s floor consideration of its two-year version of the highway bill, a similar amendment offered by Senators Sherrod Brown (OH) and Jeff Merkley (OR) was adopted by voice vote.
Failed Effort to Undermine Buy America. Also, an effort to significantly weaken Buy America preferences for transportation projects was soundly rejected during the House Transportation and Infrastructure markup of the highway bill on 2/2/12. An amendment offered by Rep. Gary Miller (CA) sought to upend the long-standing requirement that all manufacturing processes for the iron, steel, and manufactured goods used in taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects occur in the United States. Under his plan, imported steel slab that is finished in the United States would be permitted in infrastructure projects. Making this change would encourage the outsourcing of major elements of the steelmaking supply chain that account for a majority of the capital investment and employment. The domestic steel industry was united in its opposition to this amendment, as were Democrats and Republicans on the committee.
Next Steps. The House is now contemplating passage of a short-term extension of highway programs with some policy provisions as a means of moving a bill to a conference with the Senate – which has already passed a bill. This would be the 10th such extension since the last multi-year authorization bill expired in September of 2009. Regardless of how the process unfolds, it is important that the House maintain Rep. Cravaack’s language that was adopted during committee markup to improve existing Buy America preferences and that conferees tasked with writing a final bill maintain the Buy America improvements that, again, were also passed in the Senate. Any effort to undermine Buy America should be rejected, as it would be detrimental to the participation of American manufacturing companies and their workers in the rebuilding of America’s infrastructure.
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