Meanwhile, his appointees catch questions about Buy America in their confirmation hearings.
President Biden met today with a small, bipartisan group of senators at the White House to talk about infrastructure investment, the promise of which was a major part of his 2020 campaign.
The meeting included the Democratic chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee, its top-ranking Republican, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg via video call. And it sounds like it went pretty well, like everybody’s largely on board. The Republicans called it “productive.”
That’s the kind of thing this president wants to hear. He’s made an attempt at bipartisanship a big feature of his early presidency, and infrastructure spending is going to be the next big domestic issue the Biden administration wants to tackle. It will also likely be the first big issue to with any hope of earning a bipartisan imprimatur, as the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that’s working its way through the House of Representatives likely won’t.
Once that’s completed, Biden is expected to address a joint session of Congress, and the topic is largely expected to be his Build Back Better infrastructure proposal: money for all kinds of infrastructure repair, and the buildout of infrastructure to support the widespread use of electric vehicles (things like charging stations). By the way: Build Back Better is expected to make widespread use of Buy America procurement laws, which we think is a great idea.
Meanwhile, the potential executive branch officials who would be tasked with implementing Build Back Better and things like Biden’s Buy America executive order continue to go through their Senate confirmation hearings. Mayor Pete already got the O.K. to head the Department of Transportation.
This week it was Neera Tanden’s turn.
Tanden is Biden’s pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). That office will house a new position, created by the Buy America order, to manage the review of existing domestic procurement laws and potential changes to them. Over the course of a couple of days and hearings, Tanden got a lot of questions about her very recent past as a prolific Twitter brawler – some of which were both absurd and hilarious, I mean, come on – but she also got questions about Buy America. Here’s an exchange she had with Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) during her appearance before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee:
SEN. PETERS: “You know, to me, it’s common sense, particularly in the middle of this economic crisis, that when the federal government spends money, taxpayer money, that they should be spending it on products that are made here in America to help support American workers and businesses which are by far, the best in the world. I was pleased to see President Biden’s executive order strengthening Buy American provisions and creating a Made In America Office at the OMB. So if confirmed, what steps will you take to implement this incredibly important executive order, and what are your plans for leveraging the Made In America Office to ensure that American workers, businesses and their families benefit by this action?”C-SPAN
TANDEN: “Senator, I really want to say how much I appreciate your leadership on Buy American and the leadership of many members of this committee on the issue of using federal resources. The real idea behind the executive order was that when we are using federal resources, that those resources should go to help create jobs in the United States, good-paying jobs in the United States.
“And so the executive order outlines the new office within the Procurement Office, the Made In America Office. There’s also analysis of publishing all waivers so people actually understand – the public has an understanding of these issues; and also, may create some incentive structures within agencies to ensure that they are really doing the work of trying to find American companies to when we’re allocating federal resources. That is a top concern.”
“But I also look forward to working with you and other members of this committee on this topic. And to the extent we can push agencies and really create the right incentive structure for agencies to service the needs that consumers and the public have, but do it in a way that employs Americans with good-paying jobs – that is the central focus for the president. It’s one of the reasons why the executive order was put out in his first week.”
If she’s confirmed, it’s good to know there will be an OMB director who is on record as committed to making sure Buy America rules are enforced and that Biden’s executive order is implemented correctly. But this is the easy part, of course. The key will be implementation.