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Week of July 13, 2003

Pentagon Wrong to Oppose 'Buy American' Legislation

by Philip Roberto

A Lockheed Martin X-35A Joint Strike Fighter receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker during a test mission over California's Mojave Desert on Nov. 7, 2000. PHOTO by Tom Reynolds, Lockheed Martin. (Released)Rep. Duncan Hunter of California isn't your typical Republican. The 12-term Congressman from San Diego opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement, opposed the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and was vigorous opponent of granting communist China permanent normal trade status.

A former Vietnam vet, Hunter also is the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. For years, Hunter has advocated for greater increases in defense spending, even when the Republican leadership opposed them. In March 2000, Hunter was one of five members of the Armed Services Committee who threatened to withhold their voters for the budget resolution unless Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) added an additional $4 billion in spending for defense to a supplemental spending bill. The tactic worked.

In 2001, Hunter was one of a handful of Members who embarrassed the Pentagon brass by co-sponsoring legislation prohibiting the U.S. Army from purchasing berets from a low-wage factory in communist China.

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Earlier this week Hunter received national media attention for his proposed legislation to strengthen "buy American" laws, requiring the Pentagon to purchase only products with at least 65% of U.S.-made parts. Current regulations require only a 50% threshold.

"Having a dependency on foreign countries for our military resources is not in the best interest of America's national security policy," explains Hunter spokesman Michael Harrison.

"We have the most advanced military force in the world, and we should have the ability to create the most advanced weapons on our own," says Rep. Donald Manzullo, (R-IL), Chairman of the House Small Business Committee and a supporter of Hunter's legislation. "We must stop this practice of loading our weapons with foreign parts."

But, the Pentagon howled back in protest.

If the U.S. has to back out of current defense contracts, relations with key allies would be disrupted, argues Suzanne D. Patrick, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Industrial Policy. It's funny that Patrick's boss, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, wasn't worried about hurting any feelings when he made his "old Europe" remark.

Rumsfeld himself fired off a letter to Hunter, suggesting that President George W. Bush would veto the whole defense authorization bill if the "Buy American" provisions survived a House-Senate conference intact.

As a result, Hunter is now tweaking his bill, rewriting that provision to require instead that any machine tools purchased in the future to fulfill Pentagon contracts over $5 million be at least 70% American-made, exempting current contracts.

If Democrats on Capitol Hill had any marbles, they'd back Hunter's original proposed legislation en masse and call Rumsfeld's bluff. Would the President - a year away from a re-election bid - really veto an entire defense spending bill merely because it requires contractors to use parts mostly made in America?

But, Rumsfeld need not worry about that. Democrats won't because most of them have either never found a defense appropriations bill they could support or are more worried (just like some DoD bureaucrats) about the reaction of foreign diplomats abroad than they are about creating and keeping American jobs here at home.

Philip Roberto is the Editor of PoliticsOL.com and a veteran political activist. Sign up to receive his FREE valuable e-book on E-Activism, How to Advocate Your Cause on the Internet, at: http://www.politicsol.com/ebook.html

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