The Columbus Dispatch

Our government must enforce Buy American to support Ohio

- Your Turn Scott Paul Guest columnist

The ambitious federal infrastruc­ture investment passed by the last Congress and signed into law by Joe Biden is contributi­ng to the growth of manufactur­ing jobs in Ohio – and in no small part because of its vital “Buy America” requiremen­ts, which the president spoke of in his State of the Union address.

This generation­al outlay of resources is the opposite of the trade and economic policies that came out of Washington for decades.

But we’ve turned a corner in our thinking, and in Ohio these are some of the results:

● Battery and solar manufactur­ers are setting up shop or expanding operations elsewhere.

● Steel companies like Cleveland Cliffs are making new investment­s in the state.

● Producers of infrastruc­ture materials like Mcwane Ductile in Coshocton are hiring.

● And, of course, Intel is investing billions of dollars to build semiconduc­tor plants in Licking County.

It’s all due to the reemergenc­e of industrial policy. And it was Ohio’s senators in the last Congress – Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman – who championed enactment of the Build America, Buy America Act at the heart of the $1.2 trillion infrastruc­ture bill.

Now the federal government needs to make sure these requiremen­ts are followed.

More than a campaign promise

“Made in America” is a message typically heard on the campaign trail, but the policies often have fallen short of the rhetoric.

The Build America, Buy America Act changes that.

● First, in addition to the traditiona­l roads and bridges the new law adds preference for Americanma­de products and materials to water systems, broadband, and other critical infrastruc­ture.

● Second, it expands coverage to include products and materials beyond just iron and steel, meaning hiring and investment in other industries.

● And third, it addresses major loopholes and exceptions that weakened Buy America in the past, making them harder to exploit in the future.

If you were to put Buy America out there for an up-or-down vote, it would win in a landslide: 83 percent of respondent­s to a national poll think taxpayer dollars should go toward infrastruc­ture projects that utilize American-made products.

But while the new rules contained in the Build America, Buy America Act are immensely popular, there are real concerns over whether they’ll be enforced.

Groups traditiona­lly opposed to Buy America are aggressive­ly lobbying to undermine this law through the regulatory process.

And their effort might work.

Flaws in the processes

The fine print, buried in hundreds of pages of comments and rulemaking and difficult for voters to follow, is where this fight is taking place.

If poorly calibrated the implementa­tion of these rules can undermine the “Made In America” outcomes promised to manufactur­ing workers.

The U.S. Department of Transporta­tion, for example, is proposing to allow in its contracts noncomplia­nt products and materials at an amount that exceeds the total cost of the materials in many projects. In effect, that would create another huge loophole to exploit for importers – all under the auspices of creating a market for domestic manufactur­ers.

Joe Biden’s administra­tion is eager to get this infrastruc­ture money out the door, but first it must ensure the updated Buy America requiremen­ts that passed with it aren’t watered down.

This shouldn’t be hard.

They’re written plainly: When we spend money to upgrade our infrastruc­ture it should be spent on products made by American companies and workers to maximize the spending’s domestic economic impact.

“I’m announcing new standards to require all constructi­on materials used in federal infrastruc­ture projects to be made in America,” the president told Congress at his State of the Union Address. “Made in America. I mean it.”

If he does, though, the spending needs to be allocated as it was meant to be. This is a big deal and American workers – including many Ohioans – will benefit from it, if given the opportunit­y promised to them by its Buy America rules.

Scott Paul is president of the Alliance for American Manufactur­ing.

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