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House Bill Would Force Congress to Buy American Goods

A bill passed overwhelmingly by the House on Wednesday would mandate, with a few exceptions, that all Member and support staff offices buy exclusively American-made goods.

The bill, passed by a vote of 371-36, would for the first time apply the 1933 Buy American Act requirements for federal agencies to Congress itself.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the bill’s sponsor, took to the House floor with props to make her point: a Chinese calculator and umbrella, an Indonesian elephant piggy bank and a children’s briefcase from the Philippines — all brandishing the Congressional seal and all for sale in House and Senate gift shops.

“As you go through the different aisles and shelves and through House administration, where we procure our office supplies — that should be made in America,” the Ohio Democrat said in an interview. “We should set a standard for the rest of the country.”

Without companion legislation in the Senate, the Congressional Made in America Promise Act shows little promise of becoming law anytime soon, if ever.

What Kaptur called a “promotional effort” to spur American manufacturing, however, would have much more practical implications for Congressional staff.

Though his committee staff would be tasked with working out the logistics of such a mandate, House Administration Chairman Robert Brady took to the floor in support of the legislation.

“This is a very important bill designed to create more jobs in America,” the Pennsylvania Democrat said. “There are no reasons why the buy American act should not apply to Congress as it does any other agency.”

He said the Government Printing Office, the Library of Congress, the Architect of the Capitol and other agencies already follow such rules.

But while the current statute calls for preference in purchasing American goods over foreign-made products, the new language would require Congressional offices and the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer to determine not only if the goods have been manufactured domestically but also that the materials and supplies used in the manufacturing of the goods originated in the U.S., said Kyle Anderson, spokesman for the CAO and for Brady.

The House supply store, for instance, buys products with the House seal from U.S. companies, but the bill would require the CAO to make sure the paper, plastic and other materials are of U.S. origin as well.

If offices don’t comply, the penalty falls on the contractor, who must certify the Buy American Act standards have been met.

“If it is found that the certification is false, the contractor is debarred and unable to bid for any federal contract for three years,” said Deborah Koolbeck, Kaptur’s legislative director.

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