Brown calls for strong Buy America rules for taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) hosted a news conference call to discuss his bipartisan legislation to apply Buy America rules to all taxpayer-funded infrastructure and public works projects.

Currently, Buy America rules have not been fully implemented with respect to all federal programs that provide grants for the construction of infrastructure. When Chinese- or Russian-made steel and other products are used instead of American products, it steals jobs from U.S. Workers, Brown said.

Brown’s Build America, Buy America Act would implement Buy America rules across the board – ensuring that American taxpayer dollars are used to buy American-made iron, steel and manufactured products for any federally funded infrastructure projects. Brown introduced the bill with Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Gary Peters (D-MI) and Mike Braun (R-IN). Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) is leading companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“We cannot allow foreign companies to continue to undercut our domestic industries. Without Buy America rules, we are allowing manufacturing to go elsewhere at the expense of taxpayers,” Brown said. “It’s simple: American tax dollars should go toward American-made projects that support American jobs. Period.”

Brown was joined by Tiffany McKee, United Steelworkers District 1 rapid response coordinator and next generation coordinator based in Columbus. McKee also previously worked at the industrial rubber manufacturer ContiTech.

“American jobs depend on the strength of our infrastructure. For the hundreds of thousands of USW members in manufacturing, the quality of our transportation networks impacts our ability to get raw materials into our facilities and move finished products out to customers,” McKee said. “If we use our taxpayer dollars to boost U.S. jobs and businesses when we invest in infrastructure, we build strong supply chains in the process. This helps us create good jobs now and makes us safer in the future.”

Because Buy America rules have not been fully implemented for all federal infrastructure programs, too often, foreign materials are used to construct many taxpayer-funded highways, roads, bridges and water and energy infrastructure projects, Brown said. He thinks these products should instead be produced in the U.S.

Take for example the Federal Highway Administration’s Buy America requirements. The Buy America requirements for that agency have been applied only to iron and steel used for structures.

However, the FHWA has estimated that structural steel accounts for less than 5 percent of the costs of a typical highway project. That means the vast majority of materials used to construct federally assisted highways, roads and bridges do not have to be produced in the U.S.

The Build America, Buy America Act would fix these loopholes and ensure the Buy America statute actually results in the purchase of American-made iron, steel and manufactured products for all federally funded infrastructure projects.

The Alliance for American Manufacturing has endorsed this bill, along with the American Iron and Steel Institute.

Brown has applauded the Buy America requirements in President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, and he helped develop the Buy America requirements in Senate Democrats’ infrastructure proposals.

Brown also applauded Biden’s action this week to name Celeste Drake, a longtime trade expert from AFL-CIO, to be the first-ever Made in America director. This initiative aims to steer more federal dollars to U.S. manufacturers and producers.

Brown also joined Sens. Portman, Chris Murphy (D-CT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to reintroduce their Act this Congress. This legislation would establish a centralized online hub to increase transparency and ensure federal agencies prioritize the purchase of American-made goods in compliance with existing law.

Under current law, federal agencies may use domestic content waivers to Buy American laws to purchase goods or services from foreign companies only in certain circumstances: for example, when an American-made good is unavailable or will significantly increase the cost of a product.

However, federal agencies overuse this waiver authority, Brown said, and there is currently no easily-accessible government-wide system to track the use and abuse of these waivers by federal agencies.

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