In his first State of the Union address tonight, President Joe Biden praised the "iron will" of the Ukrainian people. He also promised no Ukrainian iron—one of the country's primary exports—will end up in all the infrastructure he's hoping to build.
"I'm announcing that this year we will start fixing over 65,000 miles of highway and 1,500 bridges in disrepair," said the president to Congress tonight. "When we use taxpayer dollars to rebuild America, we are going to Buy American. Buy American products to support American jobs."
The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that Biden signed into law in November 2021 expanded requirements that the new roads, bridges, buses, and trains that it would fund would be made in America from American-sourced materials. Those same Buy American provisions ensure we won't get nearly as much infrastructure for the money as we otherwise could.
That's because domestically manufactured materials and products often cost more than foreign alternatives. Otherwise, you wouldn't have to require that project sponsors use them.
Buying American steel for infrastructure projects costs around twice as much as importing it from China, according to a 2019 Congressional Research Report. That requirement cost American roadbuilders an additional $2 billion from 2009 to 2011, back when then-Vice President Biden was overseeing the spending of stimulus dollars on infrastructure projects.
Procuring American-made buses means that we pay twice as much as Japan and Korea do for their rolling stock. Our train cars cost as much 34 percent more because we insist on buying domestically.
Because these requirements can be so onerous, federal departments often grant exemptions to Buy American rules when they make projects economically infeasible. Biden is making sure fewer projects get those cost-saving exemptions.
An executive order he signed in January 2021 creates a Made in America Office within the Office of Management and Budget tasked with enforcing Buy American laws.
In his infrastructure protectionism, Biden is a lot like his predecessor. One of Donald Trump's early acts in office was to sign Buy American and Hire American executive orders. Trump likewise tried to get a $1 trillion infrastructure bill through Congress.
Biden's infrastructure bill succeeded where Trump's failed. Their shared Buy America enthusiasm shows both men were more concerned with how much money they could spend than the value they actually got from those infrastructure dollars.