Mr. President: America needs the Jones Act
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In 2016, President TrumpDonald John TrumpPapadopoulos on AG's new powers: 'Trump is now on the offense' Pelosi uses Trump to her advantage Mike Pence delivers West Point commencement address MORE won over the hearts and minds of Americans who were sick of yielding to foreign interests and wanted good jobs for hard-working Americans. Since his election, the “America First” agenda has produced unparalleled success, with unemployment at rock bottom, rising wages, and more opportunities for the American worker. Now, the White House is reportedly considering a waiver for the Jones Act, a key law that protects American interests, national security, and the domestic shipping industry on which our coastal economies rely. I urge President Trump to reconsider.

The Jones Act requires maritime transportation between two American ports to be reserved to vessels built, owned, and flagged in the United States, and manned by American seamen. This pillar of maritime policy is to credit for successfully protecting our maritime economy and our national security for nearly a century.

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President Trump’s rallying cry of “jobs, jobs, jobs!” is in stark contrast with any consideration to end the Jones Act. If the administration presses forward with a Jones Act waiver, it would kill thousands of jobs and encourage foreign companies to steal money from hard-working American families. In Florida, we are home to more than a dozen seaports that depend on the Jones Act, including JAXPORT in my district, which is one of the largest ports on the Eastern Seaboard. The Jones Act is responsible for contributing nearly $2 billion to Northeast Florida’s economy, creating over 9,000 stable jobs, and generating over $500 million in labor income.

Because of the stability and certainty created by the Jones Act, our ports and maritime industry are positioned to be first responders in times of emergency. No better example comes to mind than when Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico in 2017, taking lives and destroying millions of dollars of infrastructure. Immediately following the hurricane, Jacksonville shipping companies delivered tens of thousands of container units of supplies to the San Juan port as soon as it opened. 

As the recovery process began, many unfairly blamed the Jones Act for what was perceived as a slow and inefficient American response. However, the Jones Act did not impede the Hurricane Maria recovery efforts. Rather, the true problem was offloading and distributing the plentiful supplies that had arrived due to damaged infrastructure at the port and around the island. 

While the American maritime industry supports many high-paying, skilled-labor jobs, not every country offers the same opportunities to its workers. For example, China exploits labor to build vessels at a fraction of the American cost. If we allow these vessels to sail between U.S. ports, our domestic maritime industry would have the impossible task of competing with China’s cheap labor and subsidized manufacturing. Removing the market certainty that the Jones Act provides would decimate the American maritime industry, putting our national security in jeopardy. 

Without a strong domestic maritime industry, the U.S. would be forced to rely on countries like China to sell us vessels, ship military supplies, and transport fuel and goods between U.S. ports – like the strong supply chain between Jacksonville, Fla., and San Juan, Puerto Rico. We must not overlook the importance of protecting these supply chains. By relinquishing control to foreign entities to build our vessels and transport our goods, we essentially auction our national security to the lowest bidder.

Protecting the single biggest economic driver for the domestic maritime industry should be a main priority for any “America First” agenda. I hope that the administration will strongly consider harmful ripple effects that would come from a reckless, hasty decision to waive the Jones Act. We have the responsibility to safeguard our resources, economy, and national security. Protect the Jones Act – America depends on it.

Rutherford represents the 4th District of Florida. He is a member of the Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus.