Lawmakers eye 'Buy America' push under Trump

Lawmakers eye 'Buy America' push under Trump

Supporters of so-called Buy America rules see a new opportunity with Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMarine unit in Florida reportedly pushing to hold annual ball at Trump property Giuliani clashes with CNN's Cuomo, calls him a 'sellout' and the 'enemy' Giuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it MORE in the White House. 

One Democratic lawmaker is preparing to unveil broad legislation in the coming days aimed at closing many of the loopholes where federal requirements to use American construction products don't apply.

The push for sweeping action, as opposed to a more gradual approach, comes amid an uptick in support among Republicans for Trump's campaign proposal to buy American materials for infrastructure projects. 

“Hopefully, Trump follows through and makes it a priority," Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) said last month. "I would hope to see him really push that, and maybe bring enough Republicans along that we can do more to enforce Buy America than before.”

Lipinski's bill, which he plans to introduce Tuesday with the support of the Steel Manufacturers Association and the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD), would expand the number of federal grant programs that are required to use domestic materials.

“It applies the Buy America rules more broadly,” said Ed Wytkind, president of TTD. “Some water projects, some aviation, some government loans.”

The measure would also require agencies to publish any projects that have received a waiver for existing Buy America rules and create an annual report pinpointing how much money has been spent on foreign procurements.

Most federal transportation programs are already governed by some sort of Buy America statute, but the government can grant a waiver if it’s in the public interest, the materials aren’t available in the U.S. or if it would increase a project’s cost by more than 25 percent.

Lawmakers had previously added Buy America rules on a case-by-case basis, leading to the patchwork of requirements.

“What we learned when president Obama first took office is we had a hodgepodge of requirements, even inside the [Department of Transportation], allowing various sectors within the DOT to operate under different Buy America rules,” Wytkind said. “It’s bad policy… and it allows ways for someone to get out from under the requirements.”

It's unclear how much support the legislation will have in the House, but it's expected that other lawmakers will sign on, with even some Republicans signaling their support for the Buy America concept recently.

Trump has repeatedly vowed to buy American and hire Americans while in office, which he calls "two simple rules." He has painted the policy as a way to support American manufacturers and create jobs for the middle class.

Trump took a significant step towards making good on that promise by signing a memo last week requiring pipeline construction to use American iron and steel “to the maximum extent possible and to the extent permitted by law.”

But the broader effort could run into opposition from Trump’s own party.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate Krystal Ball touts Sanders odds in Texas MORE (R-Wis.) led a push to strip a provision from a waterways bill last year that would have required certain drinking water projects to only use U.S. steel and iron products.

The philosophy behind opposing the steel language is that blocking some companies from receiving federal dollars over others would create an unfair system of winners and losers.

“Their position against Buy America is at stark odds with the [president], who has repeatedly pledged two rules for rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure: Buy American, and hire American,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said at a Senate confirmation hearing last month.

But there is some Republican support for Buy America.

In the House, a group of 17 GOP lawmakers sent a letter to the White House expressing their desire to work with the president on the issue.  

They said inconsistencies in current Buy America policies have led to “hard-earned tax dollars leaking overseas and supporting job creation in China and other countries.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who is a champion on the issue in the Senate, remains optimistic that the requirements have a better shot at moving forward under the new administration. 

“Senator Portman is confident we’ll have a better chance at including such a provision in legislation this Congress with support of the Trump administration,” said Emily Benavides, press secretary for Portman.