Buy America is Surprisingly Popular Among the Witnesses at a House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee Hearing

By Matthew McMullan
Feb 15 2024 |
United Steelworkers legislative representative addresses the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. Screenshot via YouTube

No broad waivers should be issued for Buy America, a United Steelworkers representative argued.

A House Transportation & Infrastructure subcommittee held a hearing on Thursday examining the implementation of Buy America preferences enacted as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2021. And it was notable how popular the concept of Buy America was among the subcommittee’s witnesses.

We previewed this hearing on the blog Wednesday, specifically focusing on the written testimony of United Steelworkers legislative representative Megan Salrin. As in her written remarks, Salrin used much of her time Thursday to argue for the use of only limited and product-specific waivers when administering Buy America, so as not to dilute its overall effectiveness.

You typically get a couple of libertarian types in these hearings to ridicule the concept as wasteful governmental interference in the market. Not Thursday, though. Even as some stumped for broad waivers because they complained it’s just too darn hard to Buy America sometimes, underpinning most arguments was a recognition of the importance of domestic procurement policy.   

“American money should be spent on American stuff to benefit Americans,” said one witness in his opening statement.

“I want to be clear,” said another, “I am not here today to debate the merits of Buy America.”

Again, this was a striking change from hearings in years past. Usually, you hear about how burdensome regulation hampers multinational corporations’ ability to innovate or something. The lack of such rhetoric suggests that Members of Congress – as evidenced by the kind of witnesses they’re calling for a Buy America hearing – sees the polling showing overwhelming support for pro-manufacturing policy and are listening to their constituents.

Take this interaction from the hearing, for example.

“Ms. Salrin, you mention in your testimony that a (June) 2023 poll conducted by Morning Consult identified that 83% of Republican, Democratic and independent voters agree that taxpayer dollars should go to infrastructure projects that utilize American made products like iron, steel, and other construction materials versus products that are imported from foreign countries,” said Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.). “How do we achieve this consensus in Washington? Is it Buy America loopholes in the way, or is it something else?”

“I’d note that voters are sometimes way ahead of policymakers, mostly because they see how deindustrialization or a bridge made of Chinese steel can impact them as workers and also their communities,” Salrin replied. “The hollowing out of our industrial base is not a Republican or Democratic issue, it’s everyone’s issue and we must address that.

“Buy America is bipartisan policy and we need to keep it that way,” she continued, “and make sure the implementation in this administration is robust and strong and no new loopholes are created.”

Salrin’s written testimony delves into why fully enforcing these rules is necessary: If we don’t, loopholes will be picked in them and government spending meant to bolster domestic industry will instead leak out to its foreign competition. You can read the testimony here. And you can watch the hearing online here: