Free Trader John McCain Threatens Mississippi Shipbuilding Industry

By Ryan S. Walters

We were told throughout the Mississippi Senate race that if Chris McDaniel, that rascally Tea Partier, replaced Thad Cochran in the US Senate it would mean the end of Ingalls Shipbuilding on the Gulf Coast.  This is despite the fact that Senator McDaniel believes passionately in a strong national defense, with naval power being a vital component to it, and fair trade practices.

Now we discover, from a Clarion Ledger story, that the much-vaunted free trader John McCain, who campaigned for Thad Cochran on the Coast, is seeking to repeal what he calls adownload “protectionist” measure that’s been in force for nearly a century.  The Jones Act, or Merchant Marine Act, requires that ships that operate exclusively in American waters should be American built and owned.  According to Senator McCain, the Jones Act is “an antiquated law that has for too long hindered free trade, made U.S. industry less competitive and raised prices for consumers.” McCain said, for example, that an American ship could carry crude oil from the Gulf Coast to a Northeastern U.S. refinery for $6 per barrel. A foreign-flagged ship could do the same for $2 per barrel.

But remember this is the same US Senator who failed to beat the community organizer in 2008 and admitted something extraordinary during that campaign:  “I don’t understand economics,” he said.  And it shows, especially when he talks about trade.  He once said he had never read a credible argument for protectionism.  Well I can name several right off the top of my head without even trying hard!  Protectionism, my dear Senator, transformed this nation from an economic joke to the largest economy in the world in less than a century!

On the argument at hand, perhaps a foreign vessel could ship it a bit cheaper, though why should that matter since increased drilling is drastically dropped the price of crude, but look at what such a policy would do to our economy?  We lose good paying industrial jobs, to presumably be replaced with Obama service jobs, reduce our manufacturing capacity, which reduces our national wealth, and harms our national defense capabilities, not to mention threaten the 23,450 jobs in Mississippi and the $2 billion impact that shipbuilding has on the state’s economy.  Aside from that, do we really want foreign vessels operating exclusively in our waters?

Trade policy can be a complicated matter, no doubt, but I always liked the way Abraham Lincoln framed the argument.  He put it this way, “When we buy manufactured goods abroad, we get the goods and the foreigner gets the money. When we buy the manufactured goods at home, we get both the goods and the money.”  How can you argue with that?  But McCain does often.

Both of Mississippi’s US Senators, Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran, vowed to vote against the McCain amendment, though not much of a strong vow to block it.  Wicker called the Jones Act “a law with longstanding bipartisan support. Changing the law would negatively impact shipbuilding in Mississippi and across the country. This industry provides thousands of jobs and plays a crucial role in our commerce and national defense.”

Cochran said that “preserving our nation’s shipbuilding capabilities is important, and it would be a mistake to implement such a sweeping change without hearings and a thorough examination of the consequences.”

Maybe it’s just me but neither of those statements give me much confidence or hope that McCain’s effort will be vigorously opposed.

But, statements aside, now it’s time to see if the much-touted leadership of Thad Cochran can stop this McCain amendment and save the future of Ingalls.  Senator Cochran, it’s time for you to walk the walk!



  1. This comment is unrelated to the article but is intended as a political hint, in case anyone reading this has the ear of Mr. McDaniel and others like him. If you want to have a better chance of winning the votes of some establishment-supporting Republicans like me, it might be a good idea to comment on the actions of Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina on flip-flopping on pro-life issues this week. She opposed a pro-life bill privately, then declared she supported it after it was moot point. As a staunch pro-lifer, I’m angry at the fact she has toyed with the lives of women and children, and I think that all on both sides of the abortion debate should be angry at such flagrant hypocrisy. I can put up with flip-flopping, since we live in a fallen world and humans are imperfect, but this sort of flagrant hypocrisy on an issue as important as human life crosses a line that should not be crossed.

  2. Bill Smith says:

    Aren’t conservative Southerners historically anti-tariff?Wasn’t that an issue before the War? And you want to be on the side of big-central government Abraham Lincoln? And what does Chris McDaniel have to do with any of this? Is he anti-free trade?

  3. “establishment-supporting Republicans like me”
    ” As a staunch pro-lifer”
    This doesn’t fit together. establishment republicans = status quo.

    • Bill Smith says:

      I am a lifelong (67 yrs) conservative and what you probably think of as an establishment Republican. That said you missed the point of my question to Mr. Frazier.

    • I think Douglas’ comments may have been directed at me. Douglas, I don’t ask you to agree with me on tending to support establishment Republicans, but in this case, it doesn’t matter that the establishment Republicans=status quo. The status quo for years now has been that the Republican Party is the more pro-life of the two major parties. They’re not always as pro-life as they should be, but they’re much more so than the Democratic Party. I don’t want to see them abandon support for pro-life causes. As to Bill Smith’s comments and the article at hand, I don’t have a lot of strong feelings on McCain’s proposal, but I had been under the impression (apparently incorrectly) that the Tea Party along with libertarians supported free trade.

      • Bill Smith says:

        Right, my bad.

      • It saddens me to think that a supposedly established republican doesn’t have strong feelings about 23000 Mississippians possibly loosing their livelihood. But it doesn’t surprise me.

      • MichaelW, please don’t put words in the mouths of those of us not in lock-step with the Tea Party. Of course we don’t want Mississippians to lose their jobs. When I, for one, say I don’t have strong feelings on McCain’s proposal, it’s for the following reasons: 1) I only know about it through this blog and haven’t researched the details myself, 2) The blog article suggests that Mississippi’s establishment congressional delegation will vote against the proposal anyway, 3) I don’t know where Chris McDaniel or the Tea Party stand, 4) I can be swayed either way on McCain’s proposal depending on what is best for the country and Mississippi. If it’s harmful overall, as the blog and you suggest, then I’m against. 5) I was angry this week at the Republican leadership over other issues. When I suggested that Mr. McDaniel and others address the pro-life issue, I was making a bona fide suggestion. The Republican leadership–indeed the establishment leadership–messed up royally, and in particular Rep. Renee Ellmers did. So perhaps it would be better to try to win over people like me to support Tea Party ideas rather than insinuate we don’t care about Mississippi.

  4. Bill Smith says:

    Michael, what are you saying?

    • I’m saying that Cal90 ‘s response seemed to show that it didn’t seem to bother him about 23000 Mississippians possibly loosing their jobs if McCain’s idea is endorsed. He has explained himself, sort of. No one has put words in his mouth, but as he says, he can be swayed either way.
      Seems to me the problem here is that some believe that free trade means a level playing field. But history shows that free trade has been in favor of the Chinas, Japans, Koreas, or any other country therefore putting the U.S. kind of behind the 8 ball which means that acts such as the Jones Act were implemented to protect American jobs, business, and industry. Absolute free trade must mean exactly that for all parties.

      • MIchaelW, you might be surprised to know that I agree with your last sentence–“Absolute free trade must mean exactly that for all parties.” Free trade works best when it’s truly free for everyone involved. And when I say I can be swayed either way on an issue, I do not mean that I am fickle or have no principle. I mean simply that, when I don’t have a firm knowledge of an issue, I’m open to people trying to persuade me either way. I had thought that attitude was what our Founding Fathers wanted–a legislative environment where ideas could be debated and where truth could have a chance of winning out. I have little understanding of the shipbuilding industry and know no one in it. So I fly blind on this matter, until I have more knowledge. What if McCain’s proposal reduced shipping prices, created a greater international demand for shipping, and resulted in more American shipbuilding as a result? Or what if it dried up Mississippi shipbuilding and destroyed our state economy? I don’t know. It sounds like it would hurt Mississippi shipbuilding in the short-term and maybe the long-term; it sounds like Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker oppose the proposal; and it sounds like the Tea Party opposes the proposal too. I really have not paid enough attention to Tea Party proposals on international trade and would have been under the impression the Tea Party supported free trade agreements as causing less government involvement. I admit I may have been confusing Tea Party positions with libertarian positions, or I may have been mistaken entirely on both counts. Either way, I’m glad to see some in the Tea Party take a more nuanced position than I had assumed and that Wicker, Cochran, and the Tea Party can agree on at least a few matters. That’s how working coalitions are formed in Congress.

  5. Hey Guys: Allow me to explain. For a naval vet, Mr. McCain is showing a real lack of knowledge and insight when he says that we should scrap the Jones Act. From what you guys have said, the part of the Act that he is complaining about is that portion which requires all U.S. flagged vessels which operate solely within the coastal and territorial waters of the U.S. to be American flagged and American made. He is advocating that they should be allowed to be built pursuant to the laissez faire dictates of the free market. The Jones Act was passed not just to protect American domestic shipbuilding, but to minimize the likelihood of faulty foreign constructed vessels from being used all along our coastlines, which in turn can create havoc to domestic maritime safety and environmental protection. I don’t believe that Ingalls Shipbuilding would be affected by the suggested change McCain has raised since Ingalls is one of the few remaining American shipyards that continues to maintain the ability to construct large naval surface ships. The navy cannot afford to allow Ingalls to go out of business from a national security perspective alone. On the other hand, there are many small shipyards around the country, many of whom the navy, NOAA, DEA, and coast guard also contract for the
    construction of smaller vessels which are essential for our national security. The Jones Act requirements help these shipyards remain in business by supplementing their income with private contract work. With Senator Wicker as chairman of the Senate subcommittee which oversees the recommendations to the Senate Appropriations Committee which Senator Cochran chairs, McCain’s act is not going anywhere. The jobs at Ingalls are secure for now.
    David Frazier

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