[As posted by Ed Wytkind in the National Journal]
What’s so complicated about spending American taxpayer dollars to put Americans to work? That’s the motivation behind our endorsement of policies that condition America’s investment in new streetcars, buses and rail cars on making those products here in America.
Seriously, is there a poll that says we should spend the hard-earned tax dollars of Americans to create a pipeline of transportation manufacturing jobs offshore? Of course there isn’t. But there are plenty of politicians and foreign lobbyists who do a nice job bottling up legislation to beef up our Buy America policies.
We are at a crucial moment in time. We know from the report card issued today by the American Society of Civil Engineers that our nation’s transportation system gets a grade of D+. That means – even if we have to drag many politicians kicking and screaming – that we need to shovel hundreds of billions of dollars into our transit and rail systems, airports and air traffic control, roads and bridges, and our ports and navigation channels.
How does all this connect back to Buy America policies? Well, we have reached a “duh” moment. As we invest billions to fix and upgrade our transportation system we will also be replacing rail cars and buses, some of which were built when getting a man on the moon was still a dream. We either buy replacement equipment made by Americans employed in middle-class jobs, or we don’t. The choice is that simple.
That’s why we’ve endorsed the Invest in American Jobs bill, introduced earlier this month by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.). Its goal is pretty simple: to make this the generation that offers the most modern transportation system in the world using the most modern equipment manufactured here in America. China’s long-term plan to compete in the global economy doesn’t contemplate putting Americans to work – it contemplates dominating markets and putting the Chinese people to work. We might want to stop using their playbook.
The Buy America requirements currently in place are fraught with loopholes and low thresholds for the percentage of materials manufactured in the U.S. used in federally funded transportation projects. Yes, you’ll be shocked to learn that our Buy America laws have loopholes through which lawyers drive routinely on behalf of their clients. The Rahall bill tries to shut the door on those loopholes.
For instance, under current standards, manufacturers of buses and rail cars funded by federal dollars can get the Buy America stamp of approval with as little as 36 percent of the vehicle’s cost coming from components manufactured in the U.S. While under current Buy America rules, the actual requirement for American-made components in rolling stock is 60 percent of the vehicle’s total cost, each of those “American-made” components can comprise up to 40 percent of its cost in foreign-made parts and materials. Am I claiming that foreign interests game our Buy America rules? You bet, and the Rahall bill would end this charade.
The next time you are around an elected official tell him or her that reforming our transportation Buy America rules is so American.