Why Ryan Opposed Buy American Plan
Baldwin plan echoed Trump’s doctrine, got killed by lobbyists for foreign companies.
The news has spread as far as Mumbai, where the Times of India reported on President Donald Trump’s Thank You Tour rally in Milwaukee and his ringing declaration: “My administration will follow two simple rules. Buy American and hire Americans, right? We’re going to do it.”
Or as Trump put it at his victory celebration in Cincinnati: “Whether it is producing steel, building cars or curing disease, we want the next generation of innovation and production to happen right here in America and right here in Ohio, right?”
It’s a stance that is hugely popular with American voters. One poll found 74 percent of voters say federal projects should be built with American-made products.
But Republicans in Congress, led by House Speaker Paul Ryan, who represents the state that is second-most dependent on manufacturing, recently rejected a golden opportunity to buy American-made goods.
In September, this reform was added to the Water Resources Development Act that passed the Senate overwhelmingly, on a 95-3 vote. The House, however, didn’t act on the bill before the election and then when it was taken up in November, Ryan was lobbied by opponents of the Buy American provision.
As the Wall Street Journal reported, “lobbyists for several large foreign steelmakers are urging Mr. Ryan to keep it out. Some of the firms are represented by Squire Patton Boggs.”
When it comes to the Washington swamp that candidate Trump promised to drain, almost no one employs more of its shadowy denizens than Squire Patton Boggs. Ranked as one of the 30 largest law firms in the world, Squire Patton Boggs is also the third-largest largest lobbying firm in America. It lobbied for more than 100 clients in 2016, earning nearly $14 million, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Its lobbying arm is managed by former United States Senators John Breaux and Trent Lott and the law firm also employs former House Speaker John Boehner (though he’s not a registered lobbyist) and several former top Republican aides, as the Wall Street Journal reported. “Natasha Hammond, a lobbyist at the firm who worked in the former speaker’s office last year, has been among those who have been in touch with Mr. Ryan’s office about the provision, according to lobbyists working on the issue,” the publication reported. “Ms. Hammond’s firm represents NLMK Inc., which is one of Russia’s largest steel companies, and California Steel Industries Inc., which is owned by Brazilian and Japanese companies.”
What happened next was reported by The Hill: “Sources familiar with the negotiations say Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is actively pushing to strip the provision from the bill.”
The philosophy leading some to oppose the provision was explained to the Wall Street Journal by Rep. Mark Sanford (R – South Carolina), a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that crafted the House’s version of the water-resources bill: “Quotas in any form and in any sort ultimately hurt the consumer. They’re a form of protectionism, plain and simple,” he said. But protectionism is exactly what candidate Trump promised.
Not long after the lobbyists went to work, “the Buy America language disappeared,” as the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s website reported, and Ryan and Republicans were hit with a storm of protests.
“Washington leadership is choosing China and Russia over Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “This was the first major test of whether Washington establishment Republicans would live up to President-elect Trump’s promises to put American products and American workers first — they failed, and American iron and steel workers will pay the price.”
Ryan and Congressional leaders responded by restoring the bill’s older language, with a one-year Buy America provision, and eliminating the Baldwin-authored proposal making the provision a permanent part of the bill.
The House version of the bill then went back to the Senate, and Baldwin and Brown called on their colleagues to reinstate the language of the bill they had passed overwhelmingly. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to do so.
In reaction, Baldwin issued a press release calling on Trump to “take a stand in support of American workers” and back the permanent “Buy American” provision. But there has not been a word of response from the new president.
It’s certainly possible that a provision with a longer life might be passed at some point in the future. But if it could be killed by lobbyists at the height of the hubbub over Trump’s victory and amid his tour touting the critical need for a Buy America policy, what chance will it have as all the fervor fades? The provision won’t pass unless Trump teams up with Democrats and rogue Republicans and attempts an end run around GOP leaders like Ryan.