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You may have heard the buzz about repealing or suspending the Jones Act because it is hampering Gulf oil spill containment efforts. Section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 or Jones Act, requires that shipping between American ports and on coastal waterways be on American vessels with American crews. GOP critics say that the Jones Act is the reason that other nations are not being allowed to help with the spill. This is bunk, but more on that later. The GOP using the Gulf oil disaster to go after the Jones Act and their media enablers are in lock-step. Sen. John McCain recently introduced legislation to completely repeal the Jones Act:

I am pleased to introduce legislation that would fully repeal the Jones Act, a 1920s law that hinders free trade and favors labor unions over consumers. Specifically, the Jones Act requires that all goods shipped between waterborne ports of the United States be carried by vessels built in the United States and owned and operated by Americans. This restriction only serves to raise shipping costs, thereby making U.S. farmers less competitive and increasing costs for American consumers.

The Washington Post editorial board, not surprisingly, attacked the law as well:

The Jones Act may or may not have achieved its original purpose, but shipping businesses and labor unions love the way it shields them from foreign competition. other protectionist laws, it increases the price of goods and services to American consumers -- though how much is a matter of debate, because foreign vessels would still have to comply with other laws and regulations that add to their costs.

Pardon the echo.

McCain has a long history advocating the outsourcing of jobs, especially as chairman of the Commerce Committee. He was the guy who killed the "Buy American" provision in the Recovery Act. McCain hated the idea of rebuilding America with American-made materials, so it should come as no shock that he doesn't like American shipping on American-built ships with American crews. (Why does John McCain hate America?)

The Jones Act is a protectionist measure, designed to protect merchant marines from the Captain Bligh's of the world. It provides for seamen's rights, including the ability to bring action against unseaworthiness or negligence, protections that had been previously extended to railroad workers under the FELA. It also has an important national security protection:

It is necessary for the national defense and for the proper growth of its foreign and domestic commerce that the United States shall have a merchant marine of the best equipped and most suitable types of vessels sufficient to carry the greater portion of its commerce and serve as a naval or military auxiliary in time of war or national emergency, ultimately to be owned and operated privately by citizens of the United States; and it is declared to be the policy of the United States to do whatever may be necessary to develop and encourage the maintenance of such a merchant marine.

Is it true that the Jones Act is harmful to consumers, or is it just mildly harmful to multinationals who would prefer to have cheap (most likely Chinese) shipping? The Jones act may add a bit of consumer cost to Hawaii and Alaska. But just think of the much greater cost of lost shipbuilding and shipping. Make no mistake, if we end the Jones Act, our merchant marine fleet will end:

If we did not have the Jones Act, cargo preference, the MSP program and Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA) programs, I can assure you that it is unlikely that ships would remain under the U.S. flag. And the U.S.-citizen mariner pool needed for the Department of Defense in times of national emergency or war would simply disappear.

2002, Capt. William Schubert, U.S. Maritime Administrator testifying before the House Armed Services Committee

The Obama Administration has said no one has requested a Jones Act waiver. If there were some circumstance where a foreign ship needed to pick up oil spill equipment at an American port and bring it to the gulf via coastal waterway and an American ship couldn't do it, the waiver will be issued. More importantly, what the hell does the Jones Act have to do with the oil spill? As far as I can see, nothing. Foreign ships continue to sail into Gulf ports. Assistance is not needed on land, it is needed in international waters. Foreign ships are helping as we speak without any need for Jones Act waivers. Even the Washington Post accepts this in their editorial:

The administration's critics exaggerate the Jones Act's impact on the cleanup. It applies within only a three-mile band of coastal water. Even if President Obama had immediately waived the law, it wouldn't have affected the skimming and scooping of most of the oil, which is floating dozens of miles offshore. The inapplicability of the Jones Act to the spill area helps explain why 15 foreign-flagged vessels have indeed been cleared to operate in the Gulf of Mexico.

This GOP talking point isn't about the Gulf oil spill. It is about cutting shipping costs for big corporations by outsourcing our shipping. First, they ship the jobs overseas. Now they want to ship the shipping overseas.

One has to wonder if Republicans want Americans to do anything anymore except sit around investing money or working retail. They want a nation of bankers, cashiers and stockboys rather than growers, inventors and builders. They hate American manufacturing. They hate American shipping. They hate American farmers. They hate American miners. The only thing they seem to love is drilling for oil, debt-fueled consumer spending, and gambling on the stock market. Making and moving things? Leave that to the foreigners.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sat Jul 03, 2010 at 01:30 PM PDT.

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