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On Doing Better Than 50%, Or, Could More “Made In USA” Mean More Jobs? August 16, 2011

We gotta grow some jobs, and that’s a fact, and we probably aren’t going to be able to do it with big ol’ jobs programs funded by the Federal Government, what with today’s politics and all, and that means if this Administration wants to stay in the jobs game they’re going to have to find some smaller and more creative ways to do it.

They are also going to have to come up with ideas that are pretty much “bulletproof”, meaning that they are so hard to object to that even Allen West and Louie Gohmert will not want to be on record saying “no no no!”; alternatively, solutions that work around the legislative process entirely could represent the other form of “bulletproof-ery”.

Well, I have one of those “maybe bulletproof” ideas for you today, and it has to do with how “Made in USA” the things are that our Government buys.

The archer sees the mark along the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows might go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so he loves also the bow that is stable.

–From The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

For the rest of the story to make sense, we’ll have to define a term; specifically, “Made in USA”.

Most manufacturers in the US have to meet a very stringent standard before they can refer to a product as “Made in USA”; here’s how the standard is described by the Federal Trade Commission:

Traditionally, the Commission has required that a product advertised as Made in USA be “all or virtually all” made in the U.S.

There are special rules, most notably for automobiles (also textiles, wool, and fur), but for the most part everyone else goes by the “all or virtually all” standard when they claim something is “Made in USA”.

With one giant exception.

When the Federal Government “Buys American”, anything with over 50% US content is considered “Made in USA”; this according to the provisions of, naturally enough, the Buy American Act, 41 USC 10a – c. (Beyond the law, there are also certain Federal Regulations and Executive Orders involved; for now we’ll just call it all “the law” and let it go at that.)

Now there doesn’t seem to be anything immediately evident in the law that would prevent the Federal Government from purchasing more than 50% US content if we wanted to, and the Big Idea here today is that if government at all levels began to purchase more than 50% US content, we could create more US jobs, now and in the future, and we could do it with a minimum of muss and fuss.

Obviously, there are practical limits as to how far you could take such an approach (for example, good luck buying a Made in USA laptop), and the current law has exceptions that reflect that reality.

But consider this: there are about 450.000 vehicles in the Federal inventory (that does not include military combat vehicles), with roughly half of those belonging to the Postal Service; the General Services Administration buys about 65.000 vehicles a year (they run the Federal motor pool, and that’s the other half of the inventory).

Beyond that, think of all the billions upon billions of dollars of more mundane things the government buys every year: janitorial supplies, paper and toner, desks and chairs…well, you get the idea; now imagine if more of all of that was made right here.

One example of how we can do better can be found in Celina, Tennessee, where a garment factory that was doing work for the Air Force found itself unable to compete for a subcontract on $100 million worth of uniforms being made for the TSA; that’s because the uniforms were being made in Mexico instead.

If the work was being done here, it could mean about 300 jobs in a town that could really use ‘em. (By law, military uniforms are supposed to be made in USA; that’s an imperfect process.)

Some things already are restricted: if we don’t have a reciprocal trade agreement with a country, they generally can’t sell to the US government; China and Taiwan fall into that group.

I’m often guilty of running stories too long, so we’re going to cut this short today with a summary…followed by a cliffhanger that should keep you looking forward to Part Two:

Government buys a whole lot of stuff, and we could be buying more of it in the USA, and if we did, it could translate into jobs in places like Celina, Tennessee.

But it’s not as simple a picture as you might think, and when we get together next time, we’ll talk about the impact of free trade agreements on “Made in USA” purchasing, we’ll get the AFL-CIO’s reaction to all of this, and, if all goes well, we’ll see if we can provide official reaction from the Obama Administration.

And even though you’ll be sitting in your seat…you’re only gonna need the edge…

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On Saving 319,000 Jobs, Or, Legislation Keeps Teachers Teaching August 10, 2010

As I pick up the pace of work again, coming into the midterms, I have to get some stories cleared off the desk in order to make room for some others, and that’s what we’re about today.

We’ll be talking about saving more than 300,000 of this country’s most important jobs, and paying for it in a way that is not only good policy, but is a real problem for Republicans who are yelling “no new taxes!” once again while pretending they care about actually paying for actual spending and actually want to cut actual unemployment.

We have a bit of work to do today, but we want to keep it somewhat short…so let’s get going.

So across my desk have come documents that report how many jobs will be saved by the House coming back into session to vote out H.R. 1586 and send it to the President for his signature.

Long story short, after all the commemorative pens have been distributed about 319,000 more people will be working, including 161,000 more teachers who will be in class this year then there would have been there if it wasn’t for this bill…and as it happens, that many teachers is actually about 25,000 more people than the total number of workers in all of America’s coal mines combined.

It’s going to cost $10 billion for the “save the teacher’s jobs” part of the bill; another $16.1 billion will be paid to states to help them pay for their share of Medicare expenses this fiscal year, that will allow them to avoid laying off the remaining 158,000 workers, many of whom are working for someone like Child Protective Services or are State Troopers or are working for your State’s Department of Corrections…and about 80,000 of those jobs are private sector jobs, as contractors who work for the various states are also kept on the job.

To give you an idea of just how many teachers we’re talking about, Florida will have 9200 more this fall than they would have otherwise, Illinois will have 5700 more, Kentucky, 2200 more, and in California there’ll be about 16,500 more teachers in the classrooms this fall than if this bill wasn’t going to pass.

You can look up how many more teachers your State is estimated to have this fall at a handy page on the House Committee on Education and Labor’s website.

I don’t have a handy chart for the remaining workers, but if those jobs are more or less distributed the same way you could expect California, as an example, to save a total of about 33,000 jobs with just this one bill, and Florida to save about 18,000.

How badly do states need the money?

By an amazing coincidence, as I’m putting this story together I’m watching tonight’s “The Rachel Maddow Show”, and sure as life, she’s working the same story…and she’s reporting that Paul Krugman’s reporting that several states are literally unpaving their roads because they can’t afford to maintain them any more.

So here’s the best part: it’s all paid for by closing a variety of tax loopholes and recovering money that wasn’t being used from other programs, so no new deficit spending or additions to debt are required.

The tax loopholes?

They take aim at the various methods multinational companies are using to shield US income from US tax collectors; these mostly involve getting a Post Office box in the Cayman Islands, or something similar, and more or less claiming all your US business is derived from your new “regional office”, or that you believe you paid all your income taxes on your US income to some other government.

Our Republican friends are going nutty about this, claiming, as John Boehner just did on “Meet The Press”, that: “…they want to raise the taxes on the American people .”

This is particularly tough for Republicans because they’re dying to save The Bush Tax Cuts For The Really, Really Rich, all $800 billion worth of ‘em, without explaining how they would be paid for, all the while complaining about the much, much, lower cost of paying for saving these 300,000 jobs—and, in the very next sentence, saying they hate deficits…and if you check out the transcript from that “Meet the Press” interview, you’ll see that David Gregory asked Boehner about how he planned on paying for the $800 billion in tax cuts he wants, three different times, and he wouldn’t give a straight answer once.

So when people ask you: “What’s Washington doing about jobs?”, you can tell them they’re not only saving about a third of a million of the jobs that fight fires, and put criminals in jail, and teach your kids this fall—and paying for it, to boot—but those smaller classrooms are also making it more likely that your kids will have better jobs when they grow up; all of that without much help from our Republican friends, who’s biggest job right now seems to be figuring out how to borrow another $800 billion from you and China to give away to their wealthiest friends.

Which is its own special kind of job…and I’m pretty sure the word “snow” is somehow involved in the job description.