Sen. Chris Murphy, who several years ago struck an unusual alliance with President Donald Trump on a Buy American policy to promote domestic manufacturing, is reviving the issue in legislation he’s introducing.
Two measures he’s proposed to boost the purchase by federal agencies of U.S.-made goods, while benefiting manufacturing-heavy Connecticut, now have the added benefit of dovetailing with the policies of a fellow Democrat in the White House. Days after taking office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order tightening rules for federal agencies to prefer domestic suppliers over foreign manufacturers.
“I think Biden understands a real opportunity for bipartisan cooperation,” Murphy said in an interview. “He’s borrowing from Trump’s platform. He sees it as a good policy and can bring the country together.”
Murphy said Trump ultimately did little to advance a buy American policy, failing to pursue legislation.
One of Murphy’s bills would close loopholes allowing federal agencies to waive Buy American requirements. The government would rarely be able to use a “public interest waiver” without considering long- and short-term effects on U.S. employment.
It also would authorize the Department of Defense to establish a loan guarantee program for U.S. manufacturers, producers and miners of items that a federal agency determines is not commercially available in quantity or quality. The provision is intended to help manufacturers compete with foreign companies for U.S. government contracts.
Another provision would increase the percentage of domestic content required for goods to be considered made in America. To qualify as American-made, a company, according to the legislation, must produce most of its materials in the U.S.
The second bill would require the Department of Defense to consider a contractor’s “jobs impact statements” in addition to price, past performance and other factors to decide on firms that receive a manufacturing contract. The statement would outline how many jobs the manufacturer expects to create or keep in the United States if it’s awarded a government contract.
Buy American proposals have their critics, particularly from promoters of free trade who say the legislation is protectionism that will raise prices.
Murphy acknowledged that purchasing components from U.S. companies “probably costs a little more than when you buy from Chinese companies.” The benefit is that jobs are created at companies in the supply chain, he said, making up for the higher costs.
Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, called Buy America proposals “political theater.”
“I discard the notion it can create jobs,” he said. “It might protect jobs with procurement materials. That’s just shuffling jobs to protected sectors and take jobs from other parts of the economy.”
“The sound is great and it appeals to politicians of all parties,” Hufbauer said. “It opens the door for companies to charge high prices to the U.S. government and therefore the taxpayers.”
Murphy’s Buy American efforts play well with manufacturers in Connecticut.
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“Support American manufacturing first and foremost,” said Jamison Scott, a Woodbridge manufacturer of industrial duct equipment and executive director of ManufactureCT, which represents Connecticut manufacturers. “It goes back into our economy. Every country does the same thing.”
A Buy American policy protects the U.S. supply chain, he said. When China shut much of its economy at the start of the coronavirus pandemic last year, containers were “piling up” at its ports, he said. Reliance on domestic suppliers brings goods onto U.S. markets quickly, Scott said.
Eric Brown, vice president for manufacturing policy at the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, said details in Buy American legislation that ultimately will be enacted is not known. “The concept is right. We need investments,” he said.
The legislation supports an increased market share for U.S. companies, Brown said.
“Everybody is working on that every day,” he said.
Colin Cooper, Connecticut’s chief manufacturing officer and a former chief executive of an aerospace manufacturer, said if Buy American legislation directs more work into U.S. factories, it will have an impact. In defense plants, federal regulations place much work off-limits to foreign manufacturers, he said.
However, Buy American will “tilt the scales” to U.S. production in infrastructure manufacturing such as steel production, Cooper said.
“I don’t see it as an immediate shot in the arm. I see it helping, certainly,” he said.
Manufacturing jobs in Connecticut employ workers in aerospace, automotive parts, medical equipment and the defense industry, including helicopters, submarines and fighter jet engines. Manufacturing accounted for 158,000 jobs in Connecticut in December, nearly 10% of employment in the state.
With a full agenda before the U.S. Senate that includes the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump and economic stimulus legislation, it’s not known when senators will take up Buy America legislation. Murphy said. “Major Buy American” legislation could be pushed as part of infrastructure spending legislation, he said.
“This is one of those issues when you talk about it, everybody’s heads nod,” Murphy said. “You don’t use taxpayer dollars to buy products of overseas companies.”