Editorial: ‘Buy American’ gets overdue support

Connecticut Post

Whether his initiative on steering more U.S. defense spending to American companies succeeds — and we hope it does — U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., has already made some headway on improving the situation in Washington.

Last week, the junior senator proposed legislation that would strengthen American companies, many of which are in Connecticut, in the competition for military contracts.

The essence of Murphy’s case, of course, is pretty basic: The work keeps Americans employed.

Nevertheless, when he initially rolled out this proposal last August, it was dead on arrival because no Republican members of Congress would sign on as co-sponsors.

This time, though, the Democratic senator succeeded in getting two Republicans, Sens. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and Rob Portman, of Ohio, to sign on to his BuyAmerican.gov Act.

Though Murphy has been an outspoken critic of Republican President Donald Trump, the senator’s pro-American initiative would seem to mesh nicely with the president’s overarching theme of America first. The president, in fact, last year issued an executive order to beef up “buy American” regulations.

Connecticut is home to some of the nation’s largest defense contractors, like Stratford-based helicopter maker Sikorsky, East Hartford-based aircraft engine maker Pratt & Whitney, and Electric Boat, the submarine maker in Groton.

These big players are less susceptible to crippling blows. But jobs and livelihoods hang in the balance in the case of small subcontractors who suddenly lose a contract to a foreign lower bidder.

Though the Pentagon is supposed to give the first shot at contracts to American companies, with military procurement budgets stressed, there are ways around the regulations that let the procurement process go outside the country to cheaper suppliers. Since 2007, for instance, the Defense Department has spent some $200 billion on foreign-made products.

Consider that some 4,600 manufacturers account for 10 percent of jobs in Connecticut and 87 percent of the state’s exports.

Part of the BuyAmerican.gov Act would be a user-friendly website that lists all waivers to “Buy American” laws, as well as specific cases in which the government is not using an American company.

With the U.S. Congressional approval rating hovering in the teens in the most recent Gallup polls, there needs to be considerably more effort on both sides to cooperate with colleagues across the aisle, something our all-Democrat congressional delegation has pursued.

There’s no question that Trump has carried the “America First” banner into areas of questionable merit — certain immigration actions, winking support to extreme nationalist groups, and so on.

But the merit of tightening up the process of military purchasing — and purchasing by all federal agencies — of American-made goods is entirely defensible.

As Murphy rightly notes, “The White House needs to see that every time you squeeze the Pentagon, you lose American jobs.”