We need to rebuild our country, and we need to do it with steel and supplies that are made in America. It actually costs taxpayers more to “save money” by outsourcing then it saves because of the “safety net” costs from lost jobs and factories. A new campaign launching Monday is going to use billboards to make this point to local officials who might outsource these projects. I attended the launch event.
New Campaign To Fight For Buy American When Using Tax Dollars
Yesterday the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) and the National Steel Bridge Alliance (NSBA) held a press conference to announce a campaign to hold elected officials and procurement decision-makers accountable when they buy supplies and steel for taxpayer-funded infrastructure from outside the country. They are also calling for “Buy American” rules in state procurement policies, and a strengthening of Buy America rules in federal procurement .
The new national “Should Be Made In America” campaign will begin placing billboards wherever politicians are willing to outsource projects to China and other countries. This campaign will also use online activism to urge the use of American-made components for infrastructure projects financed with U.S. tax dollars.
The “Should Be Made In America” campaign launches with two large billboards stationed near the Bay Bridge that feature the flag of the People’s Republic of China inscribed with “The Bay Bridge/100% Foreign Steel.”
“If you are willing to outsource projects overseas, we’re willing to put up a billboard in your neighborhood telling taxpayers you did just that,” Paul said. “Any of our leaders willing to outsource jobs to China could find one of our billboards next to their shiny new project.”
The SF Bay Bridge
Under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger California turned to China for the steel in the new Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. The argument for purchasing Chinese steel was that it would “save money,” but when the costs to other state and federal government agencies as well as to the larger economy are added up, the costs to taxpayers are much more than the savings.
This outsourcing cost of thousands of American manufacturing jobs (3.5 million man-hours), which meant:
- loss of state and federal tax revenue from taxes on the wages and taxes of the workers and taxes on the companies that employed them,
- outgoing cost of unemployment benefits, food stamps and other “safety net” programs,
- cost of resulting foreclosures,
- the “ripple effect” economic costs of all these lost jobs — lost sales at stores, restaurants, gas stations, etc.,
- loss of worker training and in-country manufacturing infrastructure.
Although the federal government has “Buy America” preferences requiring American-made materials in procurement, the state of California got around these requirements by refusing federal funding and financing the project with state funds.
From the NY Times last June: Bridge Comes to San Francisco With a Made-in-China Label,
The project is part of China’s continual move up the global economic value chain — from cheap toys to Apple iPads to commercial jetliners — as it aims to become the world’s civil engineer.
The assembly work in California, and the pouring of the concrete road surface, will be done by Americans. But construction of the bridge decks and the materials that went into them are a Made in China affair. California officials say the state saved hundreds of millions of dollars by turning to China.
Several thousand Chinese workers spent five years fabricating the steel used to construct the roadbeds, cable strands, and landmark tower for the single anchor suspension bridge set to open in 2013.
But the project is sparking outrage among groups who argue the work should have stayed here.
Huge deck segments were shipped overseas from Shanghai, contributing to pollution, say critics, and delivering another blow to California’s battered economy and 12 % unemployment rate.
The Larger Costs
In addition to “safety net” cost and loss of tax revenue, there is a competitive cost when taxpayer dollars are used to purchase major components of infrastructure projects. The Chinese company that was selected to provide the steel for the Bay Bridge did not yet have the manufacturing ability to make the components. Our taxpayer dollars built the new facilities for them, and now they can bid against American companies for more projects!
There is also the cost in our own morale and confidence in our abilities. Chandra Brown, VP of Oregon Iron Works said at the press conference, “We could be celebrating “We Built That!” In the same vein, Clyde Prestowitz asks, How much will San Francisco’s Chinese bridge really cost?
I am old enough to remember the pride my parents took in telling me of the completion in the middle of the Great Depression of the Golden Gate Bridge, then the world’s longest suspension bridge. In that trying time, the bridge, almost entirely made in America, was a symbol of hope because it demonstrated that Americans could still do great things when properly led and organized.
[. . .] I can count way over $400 million in unemployment costs pretty quickly and that’s without even considering the downward pressure on all wages in the United States that arises from the import of these low wage products in the midst of high unemployment. I mean, I guess we could have had a cheaper Golden Gate Bridge in 1937 if we had just brought over a bunch of Chinese workers to do the job. But that would have defeated the purpose of building the bridge which was a major project in the effort to cut U.S. unemployment in the midst of the Depression.
In The States
Twenty states have passed or are looking at “Buy American” laws in their state-level procurement. California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation last year to permit local transit agencies to require 100 percent domestic content in purchases of transit equipment. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D-NY) administration has asked construction firms bidding on the new Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River to adhere to Buy America requirements.
Dave Johnson is the founder and principal author at Seeing the Forest, a web magazine investigating how the right is beating the Democrats. He is a fellow at the Commonweal Institute, a Board of Directors member of Media Transparency, an advisor to The Philanthropy Network, and a member of the Netroots Advisory Council of the Drum Major Institute. Dave Johnson blogs for Campaign for America’s Future. This piece originally appeared on Campaign for America’s Future.