U.S. Rep. Manning Says Triad Could Benefit From 'Buy American' Order
President Joe Biden signed an executive order Monday to boost government buying from U.S. manufacturers, as talks with Congress over a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that he considers essential to the nation's recovery showed few signs of progress.
The executive order is among a flurry of moves by Biden during his first full week to publicly show he's taking swift action to heal an ailing economy. Biden reiterated Monday that he believes the country is in a precarious spot and that relief is urgently needed, even as he dismissed the possibility of embracing a scaled-down bill to secure passage faster.
Among the features of the stimulus plan are a national vaccination program, aid to reopen schools, direct payments of $1,400 to individuals, and financial relief for state and local governments.
"Time is of the essence," Biden said. "I am reluctant to cherry-pick and take out one or two items here."
North Carolina Sixth District Representative Kathy Manning (D-6th) is among the backers of the plan. She had co-signed a letter to the president in support of buying American-made personal protective equipment.
Manning says the Triad is home to several manufacturers that are equipped to produce the protective gear.
The order was aimed at increasing factory jobs, which have slumped by 540,000 since the pandemic began last year.
"America can't sit on the sidelines in the race for the future," Biden said before signing the order in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. "We're ready, despite all we're facing."
Biden's order would modify the rules for the Buy American program, making it harder for contractors to qualify for a waiver and sell foreign-made goods to federal agencies. It also changes rules so that more of a manufactured good's components must originate from U.S. factories. America-made goods would also be protected by an increase in the government's threshold and price preferences, the difference in price over which the government can buy a foreign product.
It's an order that channels Biden's own blue-collar persona and his promise to use the government's market power to support its industrial base, an initiative that former President Donald Trump also attempted with executive actions and import taxes.
"Thanks to past presidents granting a trade-pact waiver to Buy American, today billions in U.S. tax dollars leak offshore every year because the goods and companies from 60 other countries are treated like they are American for government procurement purposes," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch and a critic of past trade agreements.
While Trump also issued a series of executive actions and tariffs with the goal of boosting manufacturing, he didn't attempt to rewrite the guidance for what constitutes a U.S.-made component or tighten the process for granting exemptions to buy foreign goods, a key difference from Biden's agenda, Biden's administration said.
The order also has elements that apply to the separate Buy America program that applies to highways and bridges. It aims to open up government procurement contracts to new companies by scouting potential contractors. The order would create a public website for companies that received waivers to sell foreign goods to the government, so that U.S. manufacturers can have more information and be in a more competitive position.
Past presidents have promised to revitalize manufacturing as a source of job growth and achieved mixed results. The government helped save the automotive sector after the 2008 financial crisis, but the number of factory jobs has been steadily shrinking over the course of four decades.
The number of U.S. manufacturing jobs peaked in 1979 at 19.5 million and now totals 12.3 million, according to the Labor Department.