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Washington Outlook Archive

Textile Buy American Measure Moving Through Congress

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

Following passage by the US House of Representatives of an economic stimulus  package, the US Senate takes up its version of  the legislation this week amid controversies surrounding a number of proposals, including "Buy American" requirements.

On January 29, the House passed an $819 billion bill by a one-sided vote of  244 to 188 with the overwhelming support of Democrats, but not a single Republican vote. The House-passed bill includes an amendment sponsored by Rep. Larry Kissell, D-N.C., that would require the US Transportation Security Administration to buy uniforms and other textile products made with 100-percent US content and labor. The program could be expanded to cover other agencies within the Department of Homeland Security - such as Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the US Citizenship and Immigration Service - which altogether have as many as 100,000 employees. That expansion could happen only if the Obama administration gets countries that are signatories to the World Trade Organization Agreement on Government Procurement to go along. Those countries would have to agree because the Kissell amendment states the Buy American requirement will apply only if it does not violate any US obligations under international trade agreements. Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, said the textile industry will be asking the President to take that action.

During the House debate on his amendment, which eventually passed by a voice vote, Kissell pointed out that 44 textile factories closed last year, eliminating 60,000 jobs. He said passage of his amendment would put many Americans back to work right away. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., raised questions about the security of uniforms made in foreign countries that could fall into the wrong hands and said he  is concerned about the high formaldehyde content in some recently imported uniforms. Anderson Warlick, chairman of the National Council of Textile Organizations, said the bill should provide "an important stimulus" to the US textile industry. Karl Spilhaus, president of the National Textile Association, pointed out that the Kissell amendment does not require any additional taxpayer money because it applies to programs that are already in place and funded.

On the Senate side, Sen. Bryan Dorgan, D-N.D., is offering a much broader Buy American amendment. It would exclude most foreign manufactured goods from projects funded under the stimulus program. The US Chamber of Commerce and many multinational corporations are opposing the Buy American provisions, charging that they amount to protectionism that will invite retaliation against US exports. In a television interview last week, Vice President Joe Biden said domestic sourcing does not amount to protectionism.

Because there will be major differences in the two versions of the legislation after Senate passage, it will have to go to a House-Senate conference committee to iron out the differences. Textile interests are hoping the Senate will incorporate a version of the Kissell amendment in its bill so it would hold up in a conference.

February 3, 2009

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