It's hard to find two better political push-buttons than American jobs and American-made products. It should come as no surprise, then, that House Democrats on the Transportation Committee last week made a big deal about their new proposal to tighten up and expand "Buy America" requirements for steel, iron, and manufactured products in all construction and infrastructure projects. The legislation was billed as "a major proposal to create American jobs."
This is the Democrats' answer to House Republicans proposal to pay for a six-year highway bill with new domestic gas and oil drilling. Republicans also have touted surface transportation and infrastructure legislation as their major job-creating proposal. Democrats are asking (somewhat cheekily), "Where will they create the jobs? In China?"
In truth, it's hard to imagine either the Democratic or the Republican proposals winning out in serious talks about a surface transportation bill. But they do preview the talking points for the floor debate when the Republican proposal finally hits the floor.
Is there a point to the Buy America requirements? Are there loopholes in the current law that could stand to be closed? How many jobs are actually at stake as a result of Buy America, given that much of the infrastructure work in the United States can't, by definition, be shipped overseas? Is it realistic to expect any Buy America provisions to survive in the next surface transportation bill?