On votes of 246-183 in the House and 60-38 in the Senate, Congress passed the biggest economic stimulus package of all time, which included Buy America provisions. The Washington Post has a truly touching story about how fair-trade champion Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) flew from his mother's memorial service to cast the deciding vote. Our hearts and prayers go out to Sen. Brown and his family.
Here's the final version of the language:
Sec. 1605. Use of American Iron, Steel, and Manufactured Goods. (a) None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for a project for the construction, alteration, maintenance, or repair of a public building or public work unless all of the iron, steel, and manufactured goods used in the project are produced in the United States.
(b) Subsection (a) shall not apply in any case or category of cases in which the head of the Federal department or agency involved finds that--
(1) applying subsection (a) would be inconsistent with the public interest;
(2) iron, steel, and the relevant manufactured goods are not produced in the United States in sufficient and reasonably available quantities and of a satisfactory quality; or
(3) inclusion of iron, steel, and manufactured goods produced in the United States will increase the cost of the overall project by more than 25 percent.
(c) If the head of a Federal department or agency determines that it is necessary to waive the application of subsection (a) based on a finding under subsection (b), the head of the department or agency shall publish in the Federal Register a detailed written justification as to why the provision is being waived.
(d) This section shall be applied in a manner consistent with United States obligations under international agreements.
The conferees' report made the following note regarding Buy America provisions:
It seems that this last sentence refers to the president's ability to waive Buy America requirements for countries that aren't parties to procurement agreements with the U.S. (i.e. Brazil, India, China, for starters.) It's actually fairly troubling that the president has so much discretion in these matters in the first place. The history of this power is that Congress, in 1979 on a fast-tracked vote, decided to waive much of its authority over procurement, handing it to the president, who could then waive the requirements to comply with flawed trade deals. Clearly, this whole system - born as it was of a kind of double delegation of legislative powers - needs a major rethink.
In other news, our colleagues Terry Stewart and Elizabeth Drake put out a useful paper debunking some of the myths surrounding Buy America perpetrated by corporate-backed think-tanks. It's chock full of useful material. Here is something I did not know:
The Facts: This assertion ignores the language of the recovery bills and U.S. experience applying similar provisions in the past. First, both the House and Senate versions of the Act allow domestic sourcing requirements to be waived where the relevant goods “are not produced in the United States in sufficient and reasonably available quantities and of a satisfactory quality.”34 This waiver provision is also included in the Buy American Act,35 and data relied upon by Hufbauer and Schott indicate that such non-availability waivers were necessary to permit foreign sourcing for only 0.29 percent of all federal contract dollars spent in 2007.36
Moreover, the House and Senate bills permit domestic sourcing requirements to be waived where their application would increase the cost of the overall project by more than 25 percent.37 The 25 percent threshold reflects cost competitiveness standards that currently apply in Buy America requirements attached to federal highway and mass transit funds.38 Similar cost waivers are available for direct federal contracting under the Buy American Act, though they have been set at different levels administratively.39 Such cost waivers were needed to justify 0.20 percent of the federal government’s spending on foreign manufactures for domestic use in 2007 – a mere 0.01 percent of all federal contracting dollars spent.40
Clearly, unavailability and cost differences present obstacles to domestic purchasing in only a tiny portion of contracts, and, where such issues do arise, procurement officials are able to use their waiver authority to address them. The same will be true under the economic recovery plan.