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American Jobs and Trade Policy Under Trump

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United Steelworkers president Leo Gerard makes a good point about how Trump’s political rhetoric about “bringing American jobs home” completely contradicts actual Republican policy. Will it matter when Trump’s promises are proven lies?

That American-job-creating, buy-American thing is supported by 71 percent of the American public. But it is a smack in the face to GOP Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who just made it clear in the Water Resources Development Act that he’s fine with creating slave-wage iron- and steel-making jobs in China with U.S. tax dollars, so long as a few fat-cat iron-and-steel importers make a profit on the deal.

So clearly, there’s a battle brewing between the President-elect and the Speaker of the House. This is the President-elect who has repeatedly promised the working-class men and women who elected him that he’d support Buy American provisions in federal law to create jobs for them. And it’s a GOP Speaker who wants to ship taxpayer-financed work overseas and let the working class wait a couple more decades to just possibly feel a tiny pinch of trickle-down from the largesse of filthy rich iron and steel importers. This, also, is a clash between a New York real estate titan who won the presidency and a Wisconsin lawmaker who lost the vice presidency.

By advocating night after night for American Made, President-elect Trump essentially warned Ryan not to strip the Buy-American provisions out of the Water Resources Development Act. But Ryan did it anyway early in December when he got the act from the Senate.

The act contained strong, permanent Buy America language when the Senate sent it over. These provisions are significant because they use tax dollars to create 33 percent more U.S. factory jobs, something that is, again, important to voters, 68 percent of whom told the Mellman Group & North Star Opinion Research in November in a national survey conducted for the Alliance for American Manufacturing that they were worried that the country had lost too many manufacturing jobs.

In addition—and President-elect Trump knows this from the response he gets at his rallies—Buy American policies are very popular. Seventy-four percent of voters say large infrastructure projects financed by taxpayer money should be constructed with American-made materials and American workers. And those who voted for President-elect Trump agree more strongly – 79 percent of them say American-made should be given preference over the lowest bidder.

This is a very big deal to iron and steel producers and workers in the United States. Far too many mills are closed or partially shuttered because of unfairly traded imports, and more than 16,000 steelworkers across this country have been laid off over the past year.

My own guess is that electorally it won’t matter very much in 2018 or 2020 for two primary reasons. First, Democrats will struggle to articulate a meaningful response to globalization, automation, and the decline of industrial jobs, as they have done for 50 years. Second, Trump will put on a hard hat and make spurious claims about saving a few hundred jobs here and there and low-information voters will be cool with that.

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