Textile Buy American Measure Moving Through Congress

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

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