Bill Waters Down Buy America Infrastructure Provision

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By Rossella Brevetti

Dec. 6 — Three Senate Democrats want lawmakers to reinsert permanent Buy America provisions in wide-ranging water infrastructure legislation ( S. 612), otherwise they plan to introduce an amendment that would do the same.

The Dec. 6 effort by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) followed a twitter campaign by Democratic lawmakers that failed after the bill's final language only included a Buy America provision for 2017.

Supporters of the Buy America requirement wanted to permanently codify it as provided for in the Senate version of the legislation. Republican House leaders replaced the permanent provision with a one-year measure.

“By stripping meaningful Buy America rules from the water infrastructure bill, Washington leadership is choosing China and Russia over Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin,” Brown said in a statement a day earlier. “This was the first major test of whether Washington establishment Republicans would live up to President-elect Trump’s promises to put American products and American workers first—they failed, and American iron and steel workers will pay the price,” he said.

“While President-elect Trump remains silent, we will continue to fight for American jobs,” Brown said Dec. 6.

The original Buy America provision would have permanently amended the Safe Drinking Water Act to require American-made steel and iron be used in infrastructure projects funded by the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.

The fate of the compromise legislation remains unclear. After the bill was unveiled, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said she would block the bill on the Senate floor because of California drought response provisions.

A number of Senate and House Democrats Dec. 5 tweeted their support for a strong steel provision and asked Republican leaders to restore it in the final agreement. Among them, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) tweeted: “Buy America is critical for supporting US manufacturing industry—I urge Republicans to stop plan to strip provision.” The twitter effort, which included incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), came on the heels of a letter spearheaded by Brown and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), calling on congressional leaders to retain the Senate provision.

Current Law

President-elect Donald Trump has called for strong Buy America requirements, saying his $1 trillion infrastructure plan would buy American and hire American.

“Congressional Republicans should stop blowing hot air about their claims to support workers and actually do something that will—reinsert Buy America into this bill,” Casey said.

In a statement late Dec. 5, Baldwin said stripping the original provision would allow foreign companies to continue undercutting the American iron and steel industries and manufacturers in Wisconsin and across the country. “American workers should build our infrastructure with American products and taxpayers' money should not be spent on Chinese or Russian iron and steel. It’s disappointing that the President-elect is sitting silent in Trump Tower,” Baldwin said.

An aide for Brown told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail that the provision added in the House is a simple restatement of current law. The provision would apply Buy America to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund—a federal-state partnership to help ensure safe drinking water—through fiscal year 2017. This same language has been included in every Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations bill since FY 2014 and is in both the House and Senate FY 2017 interior appropriations bills, the aide said.

The legislation, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, includes the Water Resources Development Act authorizing port, waterway and flood protection improvements for the country.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rossella Brevetti in Washington at rbrevetti@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerome Ashton at jashton@bna.com

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