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Why We Need the "Buy American" Clause

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Message Craig Harrington

The "buy American"- clauses introduced in the House of Representatives' stimulus bill caught heavy flack from business interests, but the United States needs these kinds of measures.  As it currently stands the government will likely spend over $40 billion on infrastructure projects around the United States. (Yes, just $40 billion--the rest is being diverted to other areas that could probably afford to wait.)  All of these projects will require concrete, steel, engineering, and labor to be completed.

Right now the House is pushing for "buy American"- clauses on any steel used in the projects, but why not go further?  We should require that any government procurements from this plan or any other go to American companies.  There are plenty of American contractors, industrial engineers, designers, construction workers, and manufacturers who could openly compete for bids.  Removing the overhanging presence of cheap (often subsidized) foreign competition would just seem reasonable.        

Instead of simply putting "buy American"- on any steel procurements, we should put it on everything.  Let private business do what it wants, but the United States government should first and foremost employ U.S. workers and U.S. firms.  NASA didn't hire out Russian scientists during the Space Race--and those foreign scientists who did come mostly went on to become citizens.  Why would the government allow any foreign competition in its largest and most sweeping infrastructure plan?

By blocking foreign-made goods and foreign workers we would guarantee that all of the money stays here.  If the stimulus package ends up paying for itself then it will be a net success, regardless of its overhead cost.  It cannot hope to pay for itself if millions of dollars are spent overseas on steel from India or European concrete.  The whole point of the stimulus is to stimulate the American economy, not the economies of everyone else.      

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the stimulus is directed at healthcare reform and tax cuts.  The tax cuts are ridiculous as they have proven themselves to fail the American people as a whole during each of the last five presidential administrations.  Healthcare reform is necessary but it does not result in economic growth, so it can wait.  If your leg was broken you wouldn't direct three times as much effort into fixing a hangnail first.  President Obama's populist agenda got him elected, but right now it is clouding his vision.  All of the stimulus should be going to infrastructure and energy projects. Then we can address education and healthcare reform.

We can hope for Senatorial rewrites to the stimulus bill which would result in a better package, but our Congressional leaders have left very little reason to believe in their legislative capacity.  We need to contact our representatives and tell them what we want to see from this package.  We cannot allow the government to continue wasting our money and continue sending borrowed funds back overseas to our creditors. 


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Craig Harrington is pursuing a degree in History and Political Science at The Ohio State University. He is also a journalist for
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