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Infrastructure investment must include ‘Buy America’ rules

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As politically polarized as the United States is right now, virtually everyone agrees on one thing. With millions unemployed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation urgently needs to create good jobs. 

In response, Washington appears to be coalescing around one key idea — a series of infrastructure projects to finally address America’s crumbling roads, bridges, waterworks and schools.

But how many jobs could this create? And what would be the cost?

A variety of trillion-dollar price tags are being thrown around. But there’s at least one precedent, since the House passed the Moving Forward Act in July. That legislation would not only tackle the country’s failing transportation infrastructure but also invest in advanced industries like renewable energy and electric vehicles.

The Coalition for a Prosperous America recently analyzed the Moving Forward Act and found that its five-year, $1.5 trillion infrastructure investment plan could create 2.5 million U.S. jobs by 2025. 

But here’s something else to consider. If Congress included strict federal “Buy America” provisions in the bill, the overall package could generate a 33% percent larger boost to the economy — and create a total of 3.3 million jobs by 2025.

Michael Stumo

Michael Stumo

That means squeezing as much bang-for-the-buck as possible out of taxpayer money. And that includes buying American-made goods whenever they’re available — using steel, rubber, glass, and other products made in U.S. factories. Doing so would support the good-paying manufacturing and construction jobs that are the foundation of middle-class communities nationwide.

However, not including “Buy America” rules would simply mean tax dollars leaking overseas, principally to China — a nation that already looks to undercut U.S. manufacturers through its own state-subsidized factories.

Rebuilding American manufacturing would begin the process of restoring critical industries — including broadband equipment, electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries, and solar panels — that have been lost to China, Japan, Germany, and South Korea in recent years.

Equally important is that requiring federal purchases of American-made medical equipment could help to restore domestic production that has been in troublingly short supply during the COVID pandemic. 

Even as Washington kicks around a possible infrastructure plan, some are calling for a greater reliance on imports. They argue that the government should simply find the cheapest supplies possible. But that’s extremely short-sighted since a widening flood of imports has already cost the U.S. roughly 5 million manufacturing jobs and more than 91,000 factories in the past 20 years. 

Realistically, Congress should follow the example set by the EU, China, and other countries. Unlike the United States, these other nations already prioritize their own domestic manufacturing sectors when allocating public funds. 

Congress must include strong “Buy America” rules in national infrastructure investment — and update U.S. trade agreements that block them. The United States has long served as the world’s primary consumer. It’s time to bring more of that spending back home, and create much-needed jobs at a pivotal time. 

Michael Stumo is CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America. 

 

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