Bill of the Week: American-made toilet seat covers — and other paper products

Bill of the Week highlights a recently introduced piece of legislation that might not make front-page news but otherwise catches the eye.

Title: Purchasing American Generates Employment Act

Number: H.R. 5908

Sponsor: Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)

Co-sponsors: None

Date Introduced: June 7

Summary: The bill, which Baldwin referred to in a press release as the “PAGE Act,” would require the federal government to purchase all paper and paper products from U.S. manufacturers. This includes printer paper as well as toilet tissue, toilet seat covers, facial tissues and carbonless paper. Combat operations, ships in foreign waters and certain defense operations would be exempt from this requirement. 

According to a statement from Baldwin’s office, the bill would help a key American industry that is falling behind its competitors.

“I believe that requiring the federal government to buy its paper and paper products from American companies is a common-sense, strategic way to boost American manufacturing and the paper industry across the country,” Baldwin said in the statement. “We know the many challenges facing the paper industry in Wisconsin and the U.S. These include burdensome regulations and the unfair trade practices of China, among others. The PAGE Act is one step we can easily undertake to boost American manufacturing and keep our U.S. paper industry strong.”

Bill’s Origin: According to Baldwin’s statement, current laws requiring the federal government to buy American manufactured products are not strong enough. The statement notes that, under existing free trade agreements, like NAFTA, paper from U.S. trade partners is considered American.

Baldwin also advocated for the expansion of Buy America requirements for investments in highway, bridge, public transit, rail and aviation infrastructure when she co-sponsored the Invest in American Jobs Act last year. The bill failed to move out of committee. 

What others say: Donna Harman, president and CEO of the American Forest & Paper Association, said she is worried about the effects this bill would have on the paper industry’s exports.

“Free and fair trade is important to the health of American paper manufacturers,” she said in an email interview. “While we appreciate the spirit in which the PAGE Act is presented, we are concerned that it will lead to retaliation against our industry’s exports, which account for 20 percent of the paper produced in the U.S. The bill violates U.S. commitments under NAFTA and WTO. [My organization] also opposes other foreign government procurement policies that discriminate against U.S. products.”

However, Kent Willets — senior vice president of Wisconsin paper manufacturer Appleton — told Baldwin’s office that the spirit of the bill is “commendable.”

“The spirit of the proposal — ensuring that U.S. paper companies have every reasonable opportunity in the U.S. marketplace, particularly in light of the challenges of the external economic environment for this sector — is commendable, and Congresswoman Baldwin’s continued interest in supporting U.S. paper companies like Appleton is exceedingly important to us and our Wisconsin employees,” Willets said, in a statement released by Baldwin’s office. 

Extras: In 2008, China overtook America as the world’s largest paper manufacturer, a report from the Economic Policy Institute said. Though China has one of the smallest forestry resources in the world, its paper production has grown threefold since 2000 and continues to expand rapidly, according to the report.