The House is Moving Ahead with Its Big Infrastructure Investment Package

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Jun 17 2020 |
An ironworker welds materials during the construction of the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge in New York. The bridge was built according to Buy America requirements. | Photo courtesy New York State Thruway Authority

Lawmakers are putting forth amendments that could have an impact on manufacturers and workers.

After years of all talk and no action, Congress finally got to work on Wednesday on a $500 billion investment package to rebuild America’s bridges, roads, transit systems, and railways.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a markup of the INVEST in America Act — and in fact, were still hard at work when we published this blog on Wednesday afternoon. We’ve written about the measure before, and AAM President Scott Paul called it “a step in the right direction.”

At Wednesday’s markup, Members of Congress introduced a number of amendments to the bill, several of which already have been adopted by the committee. We’ll keep updating this post as the markup moves ahead, but here are a few of the key amendments that caught our attention so far.

Made in America Construction Materials

The committee adopted by voice vote an amendment put forth by Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) to add the term “construction materials” to the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Buy America requirement.

This is a big deal, as it would require the FHWA to apply Buy America to construction materials that are not ferrous, meaning containing or consisting of iron. Right now, Buy America only applies to acquisitions of iron and steel, which account for as little as 4.8 percent of the money spent on federally funded highway projects that cost more than $1 million… which means Buy America doesn’t apply to around 95.2 percent of FHWA spending.

That includes things like contracting services, cement, asphalt, and aggregates, and in practice has meant taxpayer money has been spent on foreign-made products when there are American-made options available at a fair price. This amendment would close that loophole, preventing foreign suppliers from having unfettered access to taxpayer-funded government procurement markets.

No CARES Dollars for Chinese SOEs 

The committee adopted an amendment from Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) to require the return of any CARES Act transit funds to buy rail cars or buses from a Chinese state-owned or state-supported company (SOE). The amendment mirrors the Transportation Infrastructure Vehicle Security Act (TIVSA), which recently became law and bans federal taxpayer money from being used to buy rail cars or buses from Chinese state-backed firms.

We spent a lot of time advocating for TIVSA last year, pointing out that China's regime uses "state champions" like rail car maker CRRC and electric vehicle manufacturer BYD to seize market share, with the goal of eventually dominating entire industries. On top of that, these companies pose a major national security threat.

More on Rail Cars and Buses

Perry's amendment wasn't the only transit-related amendment adopted. Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) put forth an amendment that was added to the legislation as part of the managers package that would require rolling stock manufacturers – a.k.a. the makers of rail cars and buses – to supply a mill certificate to verify the manufacturer, location, and country of origin of the steel used in vehicle frames.

Essentially, this amendment aims to stop companies from using foreign-made steel to build rail cars or buses and still meeting Buy America requirements. Mill certificates are readily available and already uses in projects like building bridges, so this amendment would just extend the process to rolling stock as well.

Customs Consistency

Another amendment introduced by Lamb that is part of the managers package, this amendment aims to ensure there’s consistency between customs import data and transit Buy America laws to stop companies from claiming domestic content credit for parts if the operations performed on imported material inputs do not result in a change in the article’s customs classification.

Phew. O.K., here’s what that means.

Say a bus shell is imported into the United States and is declared a “bus shell” upon entry for customs classification. According to Lamb’s amendment, that shell would not be allowed to be treated as a domestically produced subcomponent or component of a bus going forward, since minimal U.S. operations would be performed on it.

It sounds so obvious, but you’d be surprised with what importers get away with.