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 a “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!