What Is the Jones Act, and Why Won’t Obama Waive It?
posted at 7:31 pm on June 12, 2010 by Howard Portnoy
Newly released estimates suggest that the Gulf oil leak will take at least another month to contain. Barack Obama, for his part, is growing increasingly frustrated. He is also appearing increasingly helpless and un-Presidential. Yesterday, he declared somewhat petulantly, “I can’t suck it up with a straw.”
Maybe not, but he could accept the several offers of help that have been tendered by individuals who profess to have expertise at cleaning up messes like this. But he hasn’t.
In order to accept the offers, which have come from Belgian, Dutch, and Norwegian firms that claim to possess some of the world’s most advanced oil skimming ships, Obama would need to waive the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (P.L. 66-261). Also known as the Jones Act, the law requires essentially that all commercial acts conducted in U.S.-controlled waters be performed by “U.S.-flag ships, constructed in the United States, owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed by U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents.”
So why not simply waive the act? Other presidents have under similar circumstances. George W. Bush waived the Jones Act following Hurricane Katrina, allowing foreign ships into Gulf waters to aid in the relief effort.
The explanation of Obama’s reluctance to seek this remedy is his cozy relationship with labor unions. Joseph Carafano of the Heritage Foundation is quoted as saying, “The unions see it [not waiving the act] as … protecting jobs. They hate when the Jones Act gets waived, and they pound on politicians when they do that. So … are we giving in to unions and not doing everything we can, or is there some kind of impediment that we don’t know about?”
Good question. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an answer?
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