Washington – Sen. Chris Murphy is trying to make it harder for the Pentagon to shop overseas by attaching a “Buy American” amendment to a bill that would help President Obama negotiate new free trade agreements.
Government agencies are required by law to prefer U.S.-made products in their purchases and are banned from buying anything that does not contain at least 50 percent American-origin components in its assembly. That is the case unless the purchasing agency has a waiver to violate the Buy American Act, something easily obtained when there’s a free trade agreement with a prospective seller.
Murphy, D-Conn, said there were nearly 1,200 waivers issued in 2013 involving sales worth more than $475 million. Many of those waivers were given to the Pentagon, the federal government’s biggest purchasing agent.
“I’m not getting rid of waivers,” Murphy said. “I’m saying you have to prove you can’t buy something from the United States before you buy it from somewhere else.”
On the Senate floor Tuesday, he said the Buy American Act “has been riddled with loophole after loophole, exception after exception, such that the exceptions are now the rule.”
“I won’t go through the litany of ways that you can get around the Buy American law so that sometimes today, items that are being bought by the Department of Defense are majority made outside of the United States. And, frankly, often by countries that we may not be in total alignment with when it comes to our security policy,” Murphy said.
Murphy’s legislation would prohibit a company from obtaining a waiver if a U.S. company could produce the same good at a competitive price or if the waiver would cause an American company to go out of business. He said waivers have helped shutter Connecticut businesses and cost the state jobs.
“I’m for free trade, but it needs to be fair trade,” Murphy said. “For too long, we’ve been shipping money and jobs overseas instead of investing billions of dollars in our manufacturing economy.”
Murphy is pressing to have his amendment considered during debate on trade promotion authority, dubbed the “fast track” bill, that would bar Congress from making changes to a the Trans-Pacific Partnership or any other trade treaty the United States negotiates in the next several years. It would only allow an up or down vote on a final treaty and bar a Senate filibuster.
Approval of the bill, which must also pass the House of Representatives, would give momentum to negotiations on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The fast-track bill is likely to eventually pass the Senate with all Republicans and about 10 Democrats expected to vote for it.
But late Tuesday, Democrats were fighting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., over allowing more amendments, including Murphy’s, on the floor.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said limiting the number of amendments would be “really unfair,” raising the specter of a filibuster of the fast track bill.
Murphy and fellow Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal are not likely to vote for the bill, despite the participation of several large Connecticut companies, including General Electric and United Technologies, in a massive lobbying campaign in support of the fast track bill.
The nation’s labor unions, however, are pushing just as hard to stop the fast track bill in an attempt that would derail the TPP, which they say would cost American jobs.
The fast track bill’s fate in the House is less certain than it is in the Senate.
Most House Democrats, and as many as 60 House Republicans, say they oppose the bill. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, is a leader of House opposition to the fast track bill.
But Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said on CNN this week he is confident the House will approve the fast track bill.
“We have the votes,” he said. “”We’re doing very well. We’re gaining a lot of steam and momentum.”