Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Among the slew of legislation which died the stagnant death of inaction in the Senate two bills emerged from the House of Representatives in the 111th Congress that, in ordinary times, look like they'd get a huge chunk of Republican votes. These bills got those GOP votes in the House. Putting people back to work isn't, or at least it ought not, be a partisan idea. In the marketplace of ideas there is plenty of turf to wage the political tug of war while putting American workers back to work making things in America.

House Democrats had a plan which they called the "Make it in America" strategy. Making things in America, enhancing the manufacturing base in the nation, putting American workers back into American jobs, what could be so controversial about this idea?

H.R. 3116, the Berry Extension Act and H.R. 2039, the Congressional Made In America Promise Act each passed the House and each died in the Senate. Meanwhile, unemployment continues at unacceptable levels.

The Associated Press reported on December 28th that "[t]he Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, says American companies have created 1.4 million jobs overseas this year, compared with less than 1 million in the U.S. The additional 1.4 million jobs would have lowered the U.S. unemployment rate to 8.9 percent, says Robert Scott, the institute's senior international economist. American jobs have been moving overseas for more than two decades. In recent years, though, those jobs have become more sophisticated — think semiconductors and software, not toys and clothes."

Think software, not toys and clothes. That means the lower paying jobs are now offshore and the higher paying jobs are following suit. No one on Capitol Hill should look or sound like they are surprised. This is the exact evil that the Democrats Make it in America strategy was designed to combat. House Republicans voted FOR these bills.

The Senate secretly suffocated them in committee. This is a prime example of why the arcane rules of the Senate regarding filibuster and holds must be changed. A minority of one Senator can keep the business of the Senate held hostage and that Senator need not face the glare of public scrutiny because of the overt lack of transparency in the Senate.

H.R. 3116, the Berry Extension Act was introduced by North Carolina Democratic Representative Larry Kissell. Kissell is a member of the House Trade Working Group recently came out against the proposed Korea - U.S. Free Trade Agreement. He said: "We must close the loopholes and incentives for companies to ship jobs overseas, and give our small businesses and manufacturers the fair opportunities they deserve to export their products made here,” said Kissell. “While I and many of my colleagues offered our suggestions and the changes our constituents would like to see in this deal, unfortunately not enough has been done to help protect American jobs."

According to the Congressional Research Service H.R. 3116 would amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to prohibit the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from procuring specified covered items directly related to national security interests (including clothing, tents, or natural fiber products) that are not grown, reprocessed, reused, or produced in the United States, except to the extent satisfactory quality and sufficient quantity of any such product cannot be procured as and when needed.

Kissell is saying that we can grow cotton and turn it into fabric in America. North Carolina used to be a leading center in textile production. As labor made inroads into North Carolina's textile mills the owners of those enterprises began shifting those jobs overseas. That was in the 1980's and 1990's. This is not a new strategy for the mill owners. A century earlier they found cheap labor in the Carolinas and moved the mills down South from New England.

Note to the President: All Free Trade Agreements must include requirement that the other county permit collective bargaining. When we ship our labor organizers to the places our jobs go then we get to level the playing field. When Third World nations start paying their workers what they're worth the incentive to ship American jobs to those nations fades.

H.R. 3116 did not face strong opposition in the House. H.R. 3116 did not face weak opposition in the House. H.R. 3116 was passed on a motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill, which of course means that it needed a ⅔ majority to succeed. Not only did no House Republican rise in opposition to the bill, neither was there a call for a Roll Call vote. The list of 69 cosponsors included both Democrats and Republicans. A telling remarks about the fate of the bill was made by Representative Kissell when the bill was being discussed on the floor. He said:

"In January of 2009, shortly after I was sworn in as a freshman Congressman, folks came to me and asked me if I would help extend the Berry Act in homeland security to just the TSA part. Now, I could not understand why this had not been done before, but I was assured it had been tried and had been unsuccessful because there was apparently a lot of special interest that was in opposition to this.

Having worked 27 years in textiles myself, I gladly took on this initiative, and with a lot of help, we were able to overcome the special interest, and we were able to get the extension of the Berry Act to the amendment for the Recovery Act applying just to TSA. We immediately went to work to introduce a bill of legislation that would complete this process by making all of Homeland Security very compliant."
The House of Representatives was able to overcome those special interests. In the Senate the heavy hand of special interest money need only persuade one Senator to kill a bill. We don't know how many Senators actually opposed the bill. We know that the bill died a secret death. Senate Rules must change if America is to move forward.

The House, in the first session of the 112th Congress, led by Republicans can pass this bill again, by a ⅔ majority, and send it to the Senate. Senate Democrats need to change the Senate Rules so that bills like H.R. 3116 can die a public death. Senators killing bills that keep America working can then be voted out of office.

Of course, if the Senate has to conduct the nation's business in public it is likely that bills like H.R. 3116 won't die in committee.

H.R. 2039, the Congressional Made In America Promise Act was introduced by Ohio's Democratic Representative Marcy Kaptur. The bill had 22 cosponsors of both parties. This bill is a no-brainer, nonetheless 36 Members voted against it. The lone Democrat voting against the bill was Colorado's Jared Polis. Polis, who usually makes good choices in the Congress got this one wrong. The vote was Roll Call number 521 where the margin was 371 in favor to 36 opposed, with 25 Members not voting.

Simply put the bill applies the Buy American Act to both houses of the Congress. The Congressional Research Service's summary says this bill amends the Buy American Act to apply Buy American requirements to articles, materials, and supplies acquired for the use of any legislative branch office, including the House of Representatives and the Senate, in the same manner as the Act applies with respect to articles, materials, and supplies acquired for the use of a department or independent establishment.

Prescribes a special rule in the case of any product which bears a congressional official insignia (including a mark resembling an official seal) that is acquired for the use of a legislative branch office. Prohibits the head of such office from making a determination under the Act that: (1) it is inconsistent with the public interest to enter into a contract in accordance with the Act; or (2) an article, material, or supply is not mined, produced, or manufactured in the United States in sufficient and reasonably available commercial quantities and of satisfactory quality.

Applies this prohibition to otherwise exempted manufactured articles, materials, or supplies procured under any contract the award value of which is less than or equal to the micro-purchase threshold.

These two bills are easy. They each got wide bi-partisan support in the House. This isn't the heavy lifting required to roll back tax breaks for shipping our American jobs overseas. These two bills are easy. If Senate Rules don't change then America may get stuck in this prolonged unemployment. That is unacceptable. Urge your Senators to vote, on the first day of the 112th Congress, to change the Senate Rules.

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