Joe Biden

Biden Tries To Buy Rust Belt Votes With Protectionist 'Buy American' Plan

Biden says he'll oppose attempts to repeal the Jones Act and will push for tighter "Buy American" policies that hike the price of infrastructure projects.

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If you were hoping that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden might offer a robust defense of free trade as an alternative to Trump's "economic nationalism," I have some bad news for you.

As part of a six-part economic plan unveiled last week, Biden says he would tighten so-called "Buy American" rules for government projects and would oppose any effort to repeal an antiquated shipping law that keeps out competition and raises prices. Biden's economic plan is less extreme than what some other Democratic candidates might have put forth, but it's still a cynical bid for the Rust Belt vote that will increase the federal government's influence over the marketplace for what's likely to be little actual economic gain.

"If I am fortunate enough to be elected president, I will be laser-focused on working families," Biden said in a Thursday speech from a suburb of Scranton, Pennsylvania. He promised to hike government spending on American-made industrial goods by $400 billion as part of an overhaul of government procurement rules, along with $300 billion in new government spending on domestic research and development.

Biden also said he would update Buy American rules already in place for government procurement to require a larger share of federal purchasing comes from domestic suppliers—and to cut the number of waivers granted to allow foreign purchasing.

That's a formula for "higher costs and possible diplomatic friction," notes The Washington Post, because the mandate will prevent the government from buying cheaper goods and may cause other countries to retaliate against American businesses.

That's what happened in 2009, when the Obama administration embedded strict Buy American provisions inside the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus bill. "Buy American guidelines are complicating life for American companies, muddling municipal bidding procedures and blunting the overall effect of the stimulus," The Wall Street Journal reported in September 2009. The Journal highlighted the story of a Wisconsin-based manufacturer of sewage equipment that lost roughly 25 percent of its business when Canadian municipalities imposed retaliatory measures blocking American suppliers from bidding on public contracts.

With so many manufacturers dependent on supply chains that criss-cross the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico borders, tightening these laws seems likely to be more of a disruption than a boon.

Buy American rules are "often just plain incompatible with the realities of multinational investment and 21st century global supply chains," writes Scott Lincicome, a senior fellow in economic studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

If Biden's support for Buy American laws is questionable at best, his commitment to the Jones Act is downright nonsensical. The Jones Act is a 100-year-old law that requires all shipping between U.S. ports to be done on ships that are American-built, American-flagged, and operated by American crews. The protectionist law is the chief reason it is absurdly expensive to ship goods to places like Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

Trump seemed to embrace the idea of repealing or at least scaling back the Jones Act in 2019, but he abandoned the effort when he faced political resistance, the Washington Examiner reported on Sunday.

Biden wants to expand it. His newly announced economic program reiterates his "consistent and strong" advocacy for the Jones Act and promises to "take steps to ensure American cargo is carried on U.S.-flag ships, leading to additional demand for American-made ships and U.S. merchant mariners."

That's not what the Jones Act has done. In fact, the number of ships that meet the Jones Act's requirements for operating between American ports has shrunk from 193 in 2000 to just 99 in 2018. It costs more than three times as much to build a cargo ship in America as it does in some other countries, according to a 2017 report from the Cato Institute. Unsurprisingly, American shipping companies respond to that incentive by buying foreign-built ships. That means there are fewer ships capable of serving American ports. Fewer ships means higher prices.

It might make some political sense for Biden to promise to be, essentially, a more competent protectionist than Trump as he tries to flip the Rust Belt states that were key to Trump's win in 2016. But if Biden looks at the three and a half years of antagonistic, nationalist trade policies that the Trump administration has championed and concludes that America needs more of that—well, maybe there really is cause for concern about his mental acuity.

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  1. Its OK, he is a Democrat.

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  2. On CNBC Joe asserted he’s gonna beat Joe Biden. Dying to see how this plays out.

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  3. Oh, just GREAT! We need this as badly as most of us need extra holes in our heads… A Demoblicrat “Great Protectionist” to replace our Republicrat “Great Protectionist”!!!

    Good jerbs for good Americans! And stupid voters fall for it, right and left! LITERALLY right and left!

    1. Like everything else, when a democrat does it it’s good for America, when a republican does it it’s destructive and un-American…and racist

  4. He’s pandering to the Trump voter.

  5. O/T – Okay sports fans, as you’ve no doubt heard (but not from Reason), Washington’s football team has dropped the Redskins name, effective today. They haven’t announced a new team name. I feel we owe it to the NFL to suggest some.

    I’ll keep mine clean – The Washington Progressives

    1. Me too — The Washing Tongues.

    2. The Blackskins.

    3. Gotta go for the alliteration:

      The Washington Woke.

    4. Washington Reds

    5. Washington Injuns

    6. Washington Red Pills AND Blue Pills!

    7. The Washington Trail Of Tears Victims

    8. They should just drop the S at the end and put the Bolton’s sigil on the helmet (the flayed man). Problem solved they are now the Redskin. Do the same with the Cleveland Indians, change the symbol to the chakra wheel on the Indian flag. Kansas City Chiefs to the Navy Rank Insignia for E-7’s (Chief), Atlanta Braves the symbol for the Green Beret’s (or they could rotate the various special forces symbols). They could just write the American Indians out of sports with little effort.

        1. “”Tampa Bay Buccaneers – This one’s actually OK because they were probably just stealing bread to feed their families.””

    9. The Notgonnabeanybettereitherways

    10. Washington Redskin Potatoes

    11. The Washington Wagon Burners?

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  6. Christ, what an asshole.

  7. I talked about this last week. Hillary’s tone deaf treatment of Blue Collar workers was THE significant own goal for her campaign. Had she given the standard mealy-mouthed platitudes in PA and other states, she might have won.

    Biden has effectively undermined Trump’s advantage here. He has basically adopted all of Trump’s “Anti Trade” nonsense (which as recently as 2004 was the Democrat talking point anyway) and is also doubling down on Unions.

    That leaves Immigration as Trump’s remaining Populist issue. Biden is betting that his support of Unions will be more attractive to people in middle America, for whom illegal immigration is a theoretical problem for people “over there”.

    1. Theoretical, modulo the COVID-infested meat-packers?

    2. Biden is betting on voter fraud and intimidation

      1. How does a candidate who belongs to a distinct minority (Jews) engage in voter intimidation? If you don’t vote for me (assuming that I can break voter secrecy and find out who didn’t vote for me), I will…

        Force you to attend synagogue!

        Circumcise any males who aren’t yet “properly trimmed”!

        MAKE you stay away from pigs and pig-meat!

        Make you keep your meat away from the cheese! (Not being Jewish, I don’t know, does that mean keeping your meat away from cheesy babes as well?)

    3. I said a while back that Biden was the only Democrat with a chance to beat Trump. And it was precisely because he plays well in rust belt states with working class people. Biden only has to flip 3 of the 4 following states to win: MI, PA, WI, OH. By the way, Obama won all 4 in 2012. I’m not saying that he will win, only that he was the only Democrat who could win. And that was before COVID.

      1. People may think Biden is a shitty candidate that will make a shitty president, but they HATED Hillary with a passion. I don’t think as many people HATE Biden with the same passion that they had for Hillary or still do for Trump. Not sure how that will translate on election day though.

      2. Agreed. I believe Biden wins PA and WI, but loses MI and OH. I think Trump wins, but it’ll be a squeaker. Wish I was wrong. I landslide win would be better for the after election “peaceful” protest that are likely to follow…

  8. “If I am fortunate enough to be elected president, I will be laser-focused on working families,” Biden said

    “That is, I’ll work families to the *bone* to pay the taxes to partially finance my New Big Fucking Deal!”

  9. We Koch / Reason libertarians shouldn’t expect Biden to support every single item on our benefactor Charles Koch’s economic agenda. As long as he’s better than Drumpf on immigration, Biden deserves our support.

    #VoteBidenForOpenBorders
    #ImmigrationAboveAll
    #DemocratsDontCageKids

    1. #Exceptwhentheydo.

  10. Libertarians try to buy blue check votes with “buy Chinese” plan

    Not that I would agree with the details of his plan but its probably the least insane part of the Democrat platform right now. Stop dying on stupid hills

  11. More anti-tariff TDS drivel from Boehm. If a Democrat were proposing this he would probably support it.

  12. I’d wager if you told people you were proposing a rule that goods shipped from one US port to another had to be shipped on US built, owned, and operated ships in order to boost business for US cargo haulers, they’d be overwhelmingly in favor of such a rule. They’ve never heard of the Jones Act and they’re too ignorant to think about the consequences of such a rule.

    And that’s the whole problem – ignorant people having a say in matters that are none of their damn business. Note, I say “ignorant” and not “stupid” – we are all ignorant on an infinite number of subjects. It bothers me not a whit that there are millions of little Chinese children running around who know a million times more than I do about speaking Chinese, I am totally ignorant of the language. I’m not stupid, however, I’m pretty sure I could learn to speak Chinese if I had to, after all, millions of little Chinese kids learn to speak it just fine. But if you know nothing of the Jones Act and don’t know what it actually incentivizes, what the hell are you doing having a say in whether or not we have such a rule? You’re ignorant, you shouldn’t have a vote. I’d like to challenge any number of legislators – on pain of a severe beating – to tell me in plain English what the fuck the legislation they just voted on actually does because I’ve got a pretty good idea I would be beating the shit out of a hell of a lot of legislators every damn day.

    1. But… but… but WHAT exactly the legislation that they just voted on, ACTUALLY DOES, doesn’t matter! Only their stated GOOD INTENTIONS really-really matter!!!

    2. It’s the same with tariffs. If you ask Americans if they would support a bill that puts American workers first and protects their jobs from foreign labor, you’ll find that Americans will support that overwhelmingly. Tell them the real consequences and I think you’ll see that Americans aren’t really for protectionism and picking winning and losing industries. There’s a reason that Walmart has been so successful, and it isn’t because Americans are that worried about the country of origin of the stuff they want.

      It’s hard for people ignorant of a subject to think past the intended goals to the unintended consequences.

      1. Most people don’t see those effects though. And some of them have amounted to a few extra cents in costs.

    3. The folks who should really care live in (or visit) Puerto Rico and Hawai’i. Yet they still vote overwhelmingly Democrat.

      1. I have said exactly this to Hawaiians multiple times, and they blame the shipping companies themselves. You see, this rule ensures that those companies have no competition. But it is the actual SHIPPING companies that are charging too much money, the bastards.

    4. And that’s the whole problem – ignorant people having a say in matters that are none of their damn business.

      I’d say the bigger problem is that the government has been granted the authority to make these kinds of decisions in the first place.

      We were all betrayed by the SCOTUSes that started approving these commerce clause expansions and now the Federal government tells you what size shower head you can buy.

      1. “…Federal government tells you what size shower head you can buy.”

        Turn off the water, pop the damned thing off, and drill a bigger hole in it! Most simple shower heads, it will work…

        Only by the finely honed power of my conscience, have I refrained from packing my power drill and a few bits, when travelling, to get good water flow in my hotel room showers…

        DON’T DO THAT! And you did NOT hear it from me!

    5. But if you know nothing of the Jones Act and don’t know what it actually incentivizes, what the hell are you doing having a say in whether or not we have such a rule? You’re ignorant, you shouldn’t have a vote. I’d like to challenge any number of legislators – on pain of a severe beating – to tell me in plain English what the fuck the legislation they just voted on actually does because I’ve got a pretty good idea I would be beating the shit out of a hell of a lot of legislators every damn day.

      That’s the funny thing about why the united states is set up as a republic and not a democracy. The idea in the late 1700s was that an elected person (which would usually be some sort of lawyer or otherwise legally illuminated person) would be better informed about the contents and consequences of laws than a random farmer; and this isn’t an entirely unreasonable assumption on its face. People can elect those they trust to make better and more informed decisions than they themselves could in the same way you can hire someone to represent you in court, do your taxes, or even mow your lawn. But somehow in the intervening 250 years it was forgotten that legislators were expected to understand what they were voting for. That’s the entire reason they exist. You don’t need to elect someone to press a red or blue button for you. Fundamentally, congress has become more and more like a parliament over the years and we’re just about at the point where we can dispel any illusion that Americans have any actual control over their own government. As more and more areas become under tighter and tighter control of one party or the other the decisions of what candidates can succeed is controlled more and more by totally unelected private organizations.

    6. Ooh, can I watch? I’ll even bring popcorn.

    7. “I’d like to challenge any number of legislators – on pain of a severe beating – to tell me in plain English what the fuck the legislation they just voted on actually does because I’ve got a pretty good idea I would be beating the shit out of a hell of a lot of legislators every damn day.”

      Your time would be better spent if you concentrated your efforts on lobbyists and those who wrote the legislation. The legislators are simply cogs in the wheel, put in motion by others.

      Spoken Chinese is not all that difficult, by the way. You have to master the tones, though. That’s something many English speakers never manage to do.

  13. I thought he wanted Puerto Rican support. The Jones act is designed to screw them. Very hard on Hawaii as well, but they never vote Democrat anyway. Or do they?

  14. This could easily be a Trump plan and you wouldn’t tell the difference.

    1. SUre it could. That shows how badly the free traders have lost the argument. No one is willing to support it honestly, though Biden is almost certainly lying and will never implement any of this plan.

  15. IN fairness, it is pretty obvious Biden doesn’t even know what country he is in these days. So, it is a bit hard to criticize him for a slogan that he doesn’t understand.

  16. Joe.
    You’re not going to be the next POTUS.
    Learn to code.

  17. Why is taxing foreign products bad?

  18. How’s Jo Jorgenstern’s campaign going? What’s she doing to remind America that she’s on the ballot and is not an insane person?

    1. Don’t you read all the coverage on the Libertarian web sites like the one, what’s it called, Reason?

  19. “If I am fortunate enough to be elected president, I will be laser-focused on working families,”

    That laser will be the one he used to laser focus on dodging half a billion dollars in taxes from his book deal. The payroll taxes that provide Medicare, Obamacare, and Social Security funding.

  20. I for one look forward to the media beclowning itself in support of Biden’s anti-free trade rhetoric after spending the last four years bitching about Trump’s very similar positions. Good on Bohem for being consistent.

  21. Reporter: Mr. Biden, you believe Americans should products made only in America?
    Biden: Only if the Chinese continue to make that great shrimp rice bowl I love so much.

  22. It’s looking more and more like Animal Farm.

    The pigs are learning to walk on two feet.

    Four legs good, … you know the rest.

  23. Aw man another neg on Joe Biden? What is Reason coming to now that they have to vote libertarian and get no electoral votes.

  24. Biden will do whatever corporate America tells him to do.

    Always has, always will.

    He’s a whore’s whore.

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  28. Was this really unexpected? The far left and the far right have both demonized trade, until it is another third rail in politics. Until this changes all Presidential candidates will be talking like Trump and Biden. The time to start this change is not 6 month prior to the election but 1 month after the election. There are Democrats and Republicans that support fair trade. They could form a group to start changing the populations thinking and maybe by 2024 the candidates would be talking differently. This would be a great opportunity for some sharp commercials like the Lincoln Group is now putting out, only instead of attacking Trump than can push fair trade.

    1. To promote free trade two issues have to be addressed for two seperate groups. For poorer people, you have to convince them that working in the service industry provides them a better lifestyle than working in a factory. For the middle class, you have to convince them that free trade can work even when done with governments acting in bad faith. This is where you have to convince people that China using the fact it has the biggest potential market on the planet to strong arm business in to behaving in ways they would not if the Chinese government did not directly intervene is a good thing, or you have to modify free trade to take into account countries like China and determine a minimalist way to handle other government strong arming your businesses.

      1. I think that free trade can be promoted among a broad group of Americans. For farmers foreign trade provides markets, for poor and middle class foreign trade brings down the cost of items. For workers in manufacturing foreign supplied parts can provide low cost common items to allow workers to focus on assembly and high value parts made locally. For the entrepreneur the foreign nations can supply ideas that can be used to develop businesses. As for bad faith, all nations will work towards their advantage, but with broader trade by many nations this can be checked. This is why trade agreements like TPP are necessary. This will do more to check China than tariffs.

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