Lawmakers urge Buy American mandate in jobs bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A proposed bill to help create new U.S. jobs should include strong “Buy American” provisions, even though that may be viewed as a protectionist move, two lawmakers said on Tuesday.

United Auto Workers union local 594 president Don Skidmore shows his 'Buy American Buy Union' tattoo on his arm outside his union local 735 in Canton, Michigan June 2, 2009. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

“If we are going to pass a strong job creation bill then it only makes sense to include strong Buy American provisions to further ensure that the jobs ... are created within the United States,” lawmakers Bruce Braley and Mike Michaud said in a letter to House of Representatives leaders.

The lawmakers are the heads of two separates caucuses in the House aimed at keeping jobs in the United States.

Congress is mulling spending from $75 billion to $200 billion on projects to help put workers back on the job and bring the U.S. unemployment rate down from 10 percent.

Lawmakers included a Buy American provision in the $787 billion economic stimulus package passed in February over the objection of many business leaders who said the mandate would cause delays and raise the cost of projects.

The requirement that all public works projects funded by the stimulus act use only American-made goods was softened by an exemption for countries that have government procurement trade pacts with the United States.

But the law still has created confusion for many state and local government procurement agencies dealing with the Buy American mandate for the first time, said Calman Cohen, executive director of the Emergency Committee for American Trade, a U.S. business group.

“If the objective is to have jobs created as quickly as possible, the worst thing that could be done is to create obstacles to the creation of those jobs,” Cohen said.

The Buy American mandate slows down the disbursement of funds for public works projects and shuts out many American companies that have global supply chains, he said.

Braley and Michaud argued many other countries have similar requirements for their public works programs.

“While some would argue that “Buy American” is nothing more than a trade protectionist label, it is clear that these provisions would equate to greater investment and greater job creation within the U.S.,” the lawmakers said. (Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)