Senator John McCain Launches New Attack on ‘Antiquated’ Jones Act

Jones Act ships under construction at the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard. File Photo.
Jones Act ships under construction at the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard. File Photo.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has once again launched an attack on the Jones Act, announcing Tuesday that he has filed an amendment to a Keystone XL Pipeline bill that would repeal the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, aka the Jones Act, requiring that all goods shipped between ports of the United States be carried by vessels built in the United States and owned and operated by Americans.

“I have long advocated for a full repeal of The Jones Act, an antiquated law that has for too long hindered free trade, made U.S. industry less competitive and raised prices for American consumers,” said Senator John McCain in a press release issued Tuesday. “The amendment I am introducing again today would eliminate this unnecessary, protectionist restriction.

Legislation approving the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline cleared an initial Senate hurdle on Monday by a vote of 63-32, a measure that opens the bill up for debate and the offering of amendments, such as the one introduced by McCain. A Senate vote on the amendment could come as soon as next Tuesday, according to some reports.

“[Monday] evening’s vote means it will now advance to the floor for open debate and every member will have an opportunity to offer amendments they believe will strengthen the bill,” said Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican and co-sponsor of the Keystone bill, reports Reuters.

The amendment filed by Senator McCain particularly targets the U.S. build requirement of the Jones Act. The text of the amendment can be found here.

Responding to Senator McCain’s new attack, the American Maritime Partnership, representing the voice of the U.S. domestic maritime, has issued the following statement obviously opposing McCain’s latest actions:

WASHINGTON, DC – American Maritime Partnership (AMP), the voice of the domestic maritime industry, today released the following statement on Senator John McCain’s recent measure to eliminate the U.S. shipbuilding industry, which is critical to supporting America’s military power and defense needs, employs hundreds of thousands of Americans, and pumps tens of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy.

“The McCain amendment would gut the nation’s shipbuilding capacity, outsource our U.S. Naval shipbuilding to foreign builders, and cost hundreds of thousands of family-wage jobs across this country,” said AMP Chairman Tom Allegretti. “The shipbuilding requirement, which Senator McCain seeks to eliminate, is in place to ensure that the United States maintains the industrial capacity to build its own ships, so as to protect and defend the American homeland. It is hard to believe that the Congress would endorse a change to the law that would outsource U.S. jobs and reduce national security by effectively creating dependence on foreign countries to build our ships.”

American Maritime is Critical to National and Homeland Security

A primary purpose of the Jones Act is to promote national and homeland security. The Navy’s position is clear – repeal of the Jones Act would “hamper [America’s] ability to meet strategic sealift requirements and Navy shipbuilding.” Similarly, just a month ago, Congress enacted legislation reaffirming the Jones Act and calling a strong commercial shipbuilding industry “particularly important as Federal budget cuts may reduce the number of new constructed military vessels.” The independent Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said America’s military power is dependent on a strong “shipyard industrial base to support national defense needs.”

The McCain amendment would undermine and devalue tens of billions of dollars of investments in existing U.S. constructed vessels throughout the American domestic maritime industry. The Jones Act is the foundation of the American domestic maritime infrastructure—vessels, mariners, and shipyards—that is critical to military sealift. The same is true of homeland security, where American workers on American vessels work closely with local, state and federal agencies to perform a critical domestic protection function.

American Maritime Is Vital to Nation’s Economy

The American domestic maritime industry is investing record amounts in new ship construction in virtually every trade, a “tremendous renaissance,” according to Paul “Chip” Jaenichen, administrator of the U.S. Maritime Administration. American shipyards are building record numbers of modern, state-of-the-art vessels in all sectors with more on order. The amendment is particularly troubling because shipyards are among the largest employers in many states, providing stable manufacturing jobs that pay far above the national average. A recent study by the U.S. Maritime Administration cited the “economic importance” of the American shipbuilding and repair industry, with annual employment of more than 400,000, annual labor income of about $24 billion, and annual gross domestic product of $36 billion.

In December, Senator John McCain vowed the eventual full repeal of the Jones Act despite tough opposition.

“It’s one of these things you just propose amendments to bills and encourage hearings and sooner or later the dam breaks,” McCain said after a speech at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, in December.

“But I have to tell you … the power of this maritime lobby is as powerful as anybody or any organization I have run up against in my political career. All I can do is appeal to the patron saint of lost causes and keep pressing and pressing and sooner or later you have to succeed,” he said.

SEE ALSO: Jones Act Under Attack – American Maritime Partnership Fires Back

In addition to AMP’s strong statement opposing Senator McCain’s Jones Act amendment, there seems to be a rising chorus of voices stating their opposition to the measure, which are highlighted below:

NAVY LEAGUE: “The loss of the American-built provisions in the Jones Act would have devastating ripple effects on all the sea services. Its immediate impact would be a reduction in the number of ships built in U.S. shipyards, which would result in a loss of jobs, a loss of industrial knowledge and skills, and a loss in America’s edge in shipbuilding quality and technology.“ 

MEBA: “Senator McCain has chosen to offer his amendment at the last minute to an unrelated bill because he knows that if the issue is debated fairly and openly on its merits, he would not be able to defend his position.”

SEAFARERS: “This amendment has no place in the Keystone bill or in Congress,” stated SIU President Michael Sacco. “It is just another attack on the Jones Act, one that could cripple the U.S.-flag maritime industry. We need all hands on deck to defeat this amendment.”

GREAT LAKES MARITIME TASK FORCE: The Great Lakes Maritime Task Force sees no benefit to allowing foreign-built vessels to carry cargo between U.S. ports, but warns that nearly 60,000 jobs in the Great Lakes states will be sacrificed for no good reason if the amendment to the Keystone pipeline bill offered by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is accepted. “There is no reason to even consider this amendment,” said John D. Baker, President of GLMTF and President Emeritus of the ILA’s Great Lakes District Council  “The vessels built in Great Lakes shipyards are so efficient that year in, year out they save their customers billions of dollars in freight costs compared to the land-based transportation modes.  What shortcoming, what failing can be found there?”

USCG COMMANDANT Adm. Paul Zukunft: “That for me is a real consequence, if we have foreign flagged vessels doing coastalized trade, what are the safety standards, what are the maritime pollution … standards, how are they in compliance with the same standards that we apply to our U.S. fleet?” Adm. Paul Zukunft said at the Surface Navy Association’s National Symposium in Crystal City, Va.

“I think, at the end of the day, it will put our entire U.S. fleet in jeopardy, where our fleet of roughly 80-plus international U.S.-flagged vessels will rapidly go to zero,” he said. “And then in a time of crisis, who are we going to charter to carry out our logistics? … Very difficult if we don’t have a U.S. flagged ship.”

RELATED: Congressman Hunter Implores Senate Leadership to Support Jones Act

Contact your Senator and tell him/her that you strongly oppose any such amendment.