Barack Obama made a wise call, one of his few thus far in the stimulus debate, by pressing Congress to get rid of the “buy American” clause in Porkulus. Obama, who ran on a promise to impose such restrictions, saw belatedly that he could wind up being the Herbert Hoover of the 21st century, and listened to the advice of Caterpillar’s CEO instead:
President Barack Obama’s visit to a Caterpillar manufacturing plant Thursday did more than focus attention on his efforts to create working-class jobs, as administration officials hoped. It provided the perfect backdrop to highlight Obama’s change of heart on controversial “Buy American” provisions that require government-funded projects to use only U.S.-made materials.
The issue has forced Obama to dance between rival camps of supporters in the debate over his economic stimulus bill. Labor unions wanted a strong Buy American provision in the plan; U.S. trade partners and companies with significant overseas exports, such as Caterpillar, oppose the proviso.
It’s unclear exactly where the president, who during the campaign ran “Buy American, Vote Obama” ads in labor-heavy states, currently stands on the issue. But citing the economic crisis, he now says he supports a watered-down version of the Buy American provisions contained in the House and Senate stimulus bills.
I wonder how those Rust Belt voters who fell in love with Obama’s populism feel about this particular expiration date. The cheesy logo, which I suspected was a rip-off of either Flying A Gasolne or REO Speedwagon, helped convince voters in labor-heavy states to feel the Hope and Change. Is this Change They Can Believe In?
Well, it’s change in which I can believe, and an expiration date I’m glad to see. There’s nothing wrong with the President cheerleading for American goods, nor in offering advice to consumers to try American goods before imports. That’s far different than erecting trade restrictions in government contracts. American companies such as Caterpillar compete for similar infrastructure projects in other countries and would lose massive amounts of revenue if they got blocked from those contracts. Caterpillar makes 60% of its revenue on foreign sales, and a trade war would force them to lay off a lot more than the 20,000 already out of work in this downturn.
The restrictions on trade have been removed from the final version of Porkulus. Even if this bill goes down to defeat, which it should, any stimulus package that follows it should likewise only require that contractors meet the conditions of existing trade agreements. The last thing America and the world needs is another global trade war in the middle of a sharp recession.