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Chicago Sun-Times Column: Big Business Doesn't Buy Into "Buy American"

Chicago Sun-Times

“Buy American, Hire American” is President Trump’s directive to create jobs and boost U.S. manufacturing.

But the executive order Trump touted while visiting Kenosha, Wisconsin, reads more like a policy directive written by a Washington bureaucrat than a mandate from a CEO to subordinates.

Instead of saying “here’s what we’re going to do,” Trump is asking federal agency chiefs to spend the next 150 days studying ways to develop regulations that require government bodies to buy American products instead of spending tax money overseas.

The fact is there already are “Buy American” or “Buy America” laws on the books. Businesses and government agencies spend a lot of time finding creative ways to violate their intent.

Critics of Trump’s new plan immediately called attention to one of the primary reasons the old “Buy America” laws have largely failed. They claim buying American products will mean spending far more money on government projects because, well, employees in the U.S. are paid higher wages than people in foreign countries.

These critics contend such policies also create more layers of regulation that result in government inefficiency and hamstring private enterprise.

What these critics don’t say is that American multinational corporations with manufacturing plants overseas and lots of political influence don’t want to be shut out of projects funded by our tax dollars.

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., has spent years trying to get legislation passed in Congress that would not only require more government agencies to put a priority on buying American, but get rid of the loopholes currently used to subvert the law.

As an example, the congressman points to a project in California where that state accepted federal money for a project to rebuild the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Instead of buying all the project’s steel from American suppliers, the state applied all the federal grant money to one segment of the project and used state money to buy pre-made pieces of the bridge from China.

“So the steel for the bridge was essentially made in China and assembled here by American workers,” Lipinski said.

Splitting projects into smaller segments in this manner to evade the Buy American Act is common, according to Lipinski, and his bill would prevent it.

In addition, his measure would broaden the existing Buy American requirements far beyond their current very narrow parameters, which do not apply to all federal agencies.

The fact is that while many politicians give lip service to the idea of buying American products, when it comes down to it they always find excuses to channel our money to businesses in foreign countries.

Illegal immigration hasn’t put nearly as many Americans out of work as corporations that have not only left our shores to increase their profits, but have worked behind the scenes to craft public policy for their own benefit.

Lipinski notes there’s very little transparency when it comes to spending federal money to purchase products from overseas suppliers.

The congressman wants to create a public site that would list the products purchased under every federal contract so that American manufacturers could spot deals where “Buy American” laws were being violated.

In addition, Lipinski would require a Federal Register notice and 15-day comment period for any waiver request of the “Buy American” requirements to enable U.S. companies to identify business opportunities, or instances where people may be trying to avoid complying with the law.

If Trump is really serious about putting Americans back to work, he would realize that Lipinski’s “Buy American Improvement Bill” wouldn’t be needed if his big business buddies and Wall Street friends had not done such an excellent job of co-opting the government.