Green Room

What Is the Jones Act, and Why Won’t Obama Waive It?

posted at 7:31 pm on June 12, 2010 by

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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Comments

Barack never bites the hand that feeds him.

victor82 on June 12, 2010 at 8:30 PM

Now, Barack, judging so far your powers of suck are of black-hole proportions…..

SDN on June 12, 2010 at 9:39 PM

Suck it up, you poor read reader, suck it up.

Maybe you should remember what you were supposed to learn in leadership class. Think how much less oil there would now be in our Gulf if you had waived the Jones Act and accepted those non-union tanker-skimmers when they were offered. So much less straw sucking that would take.

tarpon on June 12, 2010 at 9:47 PM

Did some looking around on this subject.

What do you think of this?

keebs on June 12, 2010 at 10:32 PM

Like all such law that restricts the market, it has clear, usual costs and burdens that damage all of us to favor a few of us.

In unusual conditions, it has MUCH worse, much less predictable costs and burdens.

ALLLLLLL such laws should IMMEDIATELY be terminated…

but do not hold your breath…

Ragspierre on June 12, 2010 at 10:34 PM

“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.”

Sounds racist! Do they check their papers? Why can’t illegal aliens undocumented Americans work on ships in US waters?

zmdavid on June 12, 2010 at 10:45 PM

Sounds racist! Do they check their papers? Why can’t illegal aliens undocumented Americans work on ships in US waters?

Hater…

Ragspierre on June 12, 2010 at 10:51 PM

keebs: It’s an interesting article. I never heard of the publication, but someone should certainly tell Thad Allen, the national incident commander. He seems to be laboring under the misapprehension that the Jones Law hasn’t yet been waived.

Howard Portnoy on June 12, 2010 at 10:54 PM

I’m more than a little dubious about Adm. Allen. He seems like a pure bureaucrat, and he’s been shown to have “acted stupidly” in more than one instance. He says he’s not seen any waiver requests, but that NEVER means there have not been any.

Ragspierre on June 12, 2010 at 10:57 PM

Ragspierre on June 12, 2010 at 10:57 PM

Good point. I assume you are talking about the availability of boom in Maine. Yes, definitely, this decreases his credibility in the category of “having his finger on the pulse” of the situation and all the options.

keebs on June 13, 2010 at 12:07 AM

He says he’s not seen any waiver requests, but that NEVER means there have not been any.

Ragspierre on June 12, 2010 at 10:57 PM

And why would it even work that way in the first place? What peon below Allen is supposed to generate a waiver request to put on his desk? It should be a top-level initiative. Wouldn’t it be more likely that Allen, Napolitano, Obama and whoever else are in a meeting and someone says “the Dutch have offered their ships” and someone else says “okay, let’s waive the Jones Act and get them over here.”

I mean in a real administration, that would be more likely. Not in this glorified clown car.

Missy on June 13, 2010 at 1:14 AM

If Obama had waived the Jones Act, much of the oil could have been contained offshore near the well. Think about that for a while.

tarpon on June 13, 2010 at 7:22 AM

If Obama had waived the Jones Act, much of the oil could have been contained offshore near the well. Think about that for a while.

tarpon on June 13, 2010 at 7:22 AM

hmmmmm, very good point…

mister late-in-the-game strikes again…

cmsinaz on June 13, 2010 at 7:37 AM

Who said BarryO has even heard of the Jones Act? The Badministration doesn’t even read the bills proposed in Congress now. We’re supposed to find out what’s in them after they’re enacted.

Besides, the 1920′s were SO racist that any laws written then must not be worth reading, somewhat like the Constitution.

/s

Robert17 on June 13, 2010 at 8:02 AM

What?, how can we act globally with a law like that? That Jones has to be repealed.

Kissmygrits on June 13, 2010 at 8:54 AM

I think this law is also the reason there are no cruises where both the start and end points are in the US. This law requires such cruise ships to have been built in the US and no one in the US manufactures cruise ships.

zmdavid on June 13, 2010 at 10:55 AM

First of all, I don’t even know how disaster relief constitutes a “commercial act.” If it somehow does, this law should have been changed a very long time ago.

Secondly, I just looked this up to be sure: Obama still has not declared this a federal disaster area.

That should have been the FIRST STEP in cutting through the red tape.

Almost two months in now. And Obama has done nothing. Nothing.

logis on June 14, 2010 at 10:36 AM

Who said BarryO has even heard of the Jones Act? The Badministration doesn’t even read the bills proposed in Congress now. We’re supposed to find out what’s in them after they’re enacted.
Robert17 on June 13, 2010 at 8:02 AM

Obama is pretty darned selective. The Constitution says he can’t do about 90% of the things he has done since he’s been in office — and he’s stone deaf.

But Obama is (figuratively) all ears when a dweeb junior staff member tells him: “There’s an obscure maritime protectionism statute that could theoretically be interpreted to mean you can continue to do nothing whatsoever about this (still undeclared) national disaster. Oh, unless you first…”

And then those dumbo ears instantly flap shut again.

logis on June 14, 2010 at 10:43 AM