Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren Wrote a Letter to Trump About Infrastructure. It's 3 Pages of Protectionist Nonsense.

The point of infrastructure spending is to build infrastructure, not create jobs.


Sen. Bernie Sanders
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

A group of senators is pressuring Trump to make his infrastructure proposal as cost-ineffective as possible by adding protectionist provisions to it.

"As you draft your infrastructure proposal, we encourage you to not only protect existing 'Buy America' laws, but work with Congress to expand these protections," reads the Friday letter (first made public Monday) signed by such progressive luminaries as Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), and Sherrod Brown (D–Ohio). Such a move, these senators say, will "improve wages, boost growth, and support American manufacturers."

To judge from the letter's extensive quotes from Trump's own speeches and executive orders, protectionist procurement requirements are one area where #resistance progressives and the president are in agreement.

Trump's inaugural address promised a government that would "buy American and hire American." A few months later, he signed an executive order in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which promised to crack down on waivers for "Buy American" provisions on federal projects.

Current federal law requires that infrastructure projects receiving federal dollars source a certain percentage of materials—typically iron, steel, and "manufactured goods"—from domestic producers. Federal cabinet heads have broad authority to waive these requirements if they impose undue costs, if the materials are not available in sufficient quantity, or if it would otherwise be in "the public interest."

That "public interest" provision allows the government pretty broad authority to skirt Buy America requirements, which they often do—and for good reason, says Baruch Feigenbaum, a transportation analyst with the Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes this website).

"Buy America basically makes things more expensive. Instead of getting the most cost-effective materials from throughout the globe, you're forced to buy things in America," he says.

The senators writing to Trump had precious little to say about cost effectiveness, instead asserting that "only strict adherence this [Buy America] principle will ensure that the economic benefits of infrastructure investment to American companies, not to foreign companies."

"The point of an infrastructure project is to build infrastructure," retorts Feigenbaum. Hiring workers and purchasing materials are a means to that end, not an end in themselves.

Stepped up enforcement of Buy American provisions isn't the only infrastructure demand coming from the Democratic side of the aisle. In January of last year, Senate Dems proposed their own $1 trillion infrastructure plan composed entirely of direct federal spending; it was full of progressive priorities, including $130 billion for public transit, $100 billion for "21st century" (read: renewable) energy projects, and $20 billion for expanded broadband internet. House Democrats have proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure plan similarly composed entirely of direct federal dollars.

The Trump administration says it wants to shift as much infrastructure financing as possible onto states, local governments, and private investors. Still Republicans will likely need support from some Democrats to move an infrastructure project through the Senate, necessitating some horse-trading.

"Democrats are going to be skeptical to work with the White House, so giving Democrats Buy America stuff will make them more likely to agree to an infrastructure package," says Feigenbaum. Given Trump's personal support for the idea, and given the leverage Democrats hold, the administration's forthcoming infrastructure plan is likely to contain more protectionism, and consequently less actual infrastructure investment.

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  1. Buy America basically makes things more expensive.

    No need for the charade, we’ve all been duly notified that that ‘Buy American Infrastructure’ is just a euphemism for “We’re gonna need more cattle cars.”

    1. But Bernie, I thought socialism was supposed to make everyone equal and to punish the rich man by not allowing him to be so greedy?

      Where are all the Bernie nuts when he is not campaigning for socialism?

      1. It is absolutely terrifying that millions of educated adults actually believe either of those two Marxist buffoons has any business being president.

        1. Including most of the Reason staff who heralded him as the most libertarian candidate in the 2016 election.

  2. To be fair, one way to get Trump’s attention is to speak his protectionist language. Another way to get his attention is to pepper your document with Trump’s name in all caps. Yet another way to get his attention is to edit out all of the talk talk talking and just have gorillas kickboxing.

    1. Well, Bernie can do at least 2 of those. Not sure I’d trust him to be a gorilla wrangler, tho…

      1. Well he’s certainly no macho business donkey wrestler.

    2. Or they might just sincerely agree with him about protectionism.

      1. I’m sure they think Trump’s protectionism doesn’t go too far enough.

  3. The party of mercantilism persist, as does the party of socialism.

  4. True. Will be interesting to see if he pushes his $1T infrastructure plan tonight. Because if all the immigrants are deported, who’s going to bake the tacos while all the Americans are building new bridges?

    1. bake the tacos

      I have never been more offended by anything you have ever said.

      1. Have you never enjoyed the delicious and clearly authentic Ortega family taco dinner kit?

      2. Are tacos “baked”?

  5. The point of infrastructure spending is to build infrastructure,

    Everyone remember how much awesome “infra” stuff we got out of the trillion $ in the Obama admin? good times. Shovel-ready stuff.

    no, shithead: infrastructure spending is an excuse for the federal govt to make huge transfers of taxpayer money to states. How fucking retarded are you that you still don’t understand this yet. Obama spent a few hundred billion on ‘”infrastructure” and it all went (via 1000 diversionary projects) to local pub sec unions. Somehow every bridge wasn’t re-plated w/ gold in the process.

    1. Infrastructure projects are one of those uniting causes that sounds good enough to both sides that it can grift the country with little effort or resistance.

    2. Trump and the Republicans will be rewarding their cronies the same way the Obama and the Democrats were rewarding theirs (Solyndra anyone?) in the last “infrastructure” spending package.

      1. yes.

        the recipients are simply “constituents” in strategic states.

        “The point of infrastructure spending” is to buy re-election. Which is why presidents always have a hard-on for it in their first term.

      2. Speaking of Soyndra, wasn’t not being able to compete with cheap overseas solar panels one of the reasons it folded?

        1. Probably more that the whole thing was a mafia style bust out. Sell the inventory and everything else at pennies on the dollar out the back door while running up the government credit card. Solyndra was never a real company, and only existed to wet the beaks of top Obama campaign bundlers.

          It is the Chicago way after all.

    3. because “infrastructure” to leftists means bailing out their public sector unions and pensions from decades of fraud and corruption and what-should-be-illegal accounting?

      In CA, Infrastructure used to mean dams and freeways, now it means trains we won’t ride and other nonsense.

      We are constantly in a drought but don’t build any more storage capacity. Last winter a decade of drinking water just flowed into the ocean….

      1. because “infrastructure” to leftists means bailing out their public sector unions and pensions from decades of fraud and corruption and what-should-be-illegal accounting?

        pretty much.

        if you’re a journalist and you think federal “infrastructure spending” is about roads and bridges, you’re an idiot.

        1. The only thing I would object to is his attempt to place it only on leftists. This is scriff all across, only thing that changes is where the money disappears to.

          And note, I tend to mean this for large scale infrastructure omnibus spending type endeavors.

          1. The only thing I would object to is his attempt to place it only on leftists

            the entire game of congress is wrestling over who gets to point the federal-spending hose in what direction. the term “infrastructure” is one of the magic words they use to convince the public that the latest hose down has some purpose.

            there are no ‘leftists’ involved. just shitty politicians fighting over who gets to spend other people’s money.

        2. To be fair, something will get built but at vastly inflated costs. You know, ten guys to drive a truck and another ten guys to watch those ten guys kind of thing.

          1. “something will get built”


            i bet it will even get a plaque

            1. With the name of the politician who tirelessly championed it.

    4. Can’t say how happy I was that Ohio turned down $400 million to build a (max) 76mph “high speed rail” line from Cleveland to Columbus that would average 40 passengers per day.

      But infrastructure!

    5. These Democrats should explain to their constituents why the trains keep derailing and urban expressways are full of potholes after decades of their leadership and “buy American”.

      1. Because jobs.

      2. Because they’re just that underfunded! Make the 1% pay their fair share!

      3. You and I both know how exactly they’ll explain it.


  6. But the guy is literally Hitler. How can you even stoop to giving advice to such an evil being?

  7. It would be refreshing if he just straight up gave money to people who agreed to verifiably vote for him.

    1. It would probably be a lot cheaper too.

    2. I remember that guy. His name was “Bush” something. I think he was the previous Hitler.

      1. They are all Hitler these days.

  8. “”by adding protectionist provisions to it.”‘

    Isn’t that what Trump was doing by adding the tariff to solar panels?

    1. I’m not sure i understand the nature of the “protectionism” of the solar panel industry, when the price of oil clearly makes solar panels a bad investment to begin with.

      i mean, it seems just another layer of bullshit on top of a bullshit industry. don’t companies still have incentives to spend money on this snake-oil due to federal green-subsidies?

      elbowing out foreign competition is, due to rapidly falling prices, ultimately diluted to insignificance

      many seem to think that while the tarriffs do “protect” the few remaining domestic manufacturers, the ultimate purpose is simply to raise prices overall (even if it fails to do so), which is a sop to the coal industry.

      others think its a favor to First Solar

      its strange to call it ‘protectionism’ when the industry relies mostly on foreign imports for its own domestic competitiveness. (iow, to keep products cheap for consumers)

  9. “The point of an infrastructure project is to build infrastructure,” retorts Feigenbaum. Hiring workers and purchasing materials are a means to that end, not an end in themselves.

    It’s cute that you still think that, Christian.

  10. It’s 3 Pages of Protectionist Nonsense.

    Is there any more important spot in the Trump administration than the intersection of Protectionist Place and Nonsense Street?

    1. Conveniently ignoring that the writers of letter are your good friends Warren and Sanders?

  11. So, two career imbeciles wrote a three page letter consisting largely of nonsense.

    Nobody who supports the Left will believe it is nonsense. Nobody who supports the Left would support it, if they were told it came FROM Trump instead of TO him.

  12. Costs? How can you put a price on MAGA? Cheapskates!

  13. American tax dollars should be spent on American products whenever available.

    That is all.

  14. To be fair. . . California rebuilt the Bay Bridge using Chinese steel. . . and had problems.

    Cheaper isn’t always better. Sometimes, cheaping out causes more problems than it’s worth.

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