TribBlog: Keeping Up With the Jones Act

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Dallas, filed a bill today to waive the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 — a move sure to please Republican state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Houston.

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison campaigns in suburban San Antonio on Thursday in her bid for the Republican nomination for Texas Governor.  Hutchison campaigns at the Chirojava cafe in downtown Seguin, Texas.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Dallas, filed a bill today to waive the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 — a move sure to please Republican state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Houston.

Known as the Jones Act, the law in question is a remnant of American protectionism that requires all goods transported between U.S. ports to be built, owned, and operated by Americans. Geert Visser, consul general for the Netherlands in Houston, recently told the Houston Chronicle that when Dutch ships were offered to help clean up the oil mess, “The embassy got a nice letter from the administration that said, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.'”

Increasingly loud voices have called on President Barack Obama to temporarily waive the act so that foreign ships can help clean up oil that is continuing to spill into the Gulf of Mexico. Among them is Riddle. This morning on her Facebook page, Riddle was sympathetic to U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, who drew a flurry of criticism for apologizing to BP over the White House's request that the company set up a $20 billion fund for oil spill victims. She posted — and apparently has since deleted — the following update to her Facebook status:

OK, in a world of "PC" speech it is refreshing to hear our Texas congressman, Joe Barton, call it as he sees it — a "shake down." The Bible says, "let your yes be yes and your no be no." The outrage SHOULD be with Obama for NOT allowing other countries and our American companies in the Gulf to clean the spill from day one! BHO didn't lift the Jones Act because he is sold out to the unions.

So it no doubt pleased Riddle to hear today that Hutchison introduced a bill, cleverly titled WAIVER (Water Assistance from International Vessels for Emergency Response), to do just that — lift the Jones Act. "The administration has failed to issue a waiver on the Jones Act, which is blockading foreign vessels from working with their American counterparts to remove the oil from the waters of the Gulf," Hutchison said in a statement. "The federal response to this spill has been unacceptable, and we cannot wait around until the disaster gets worse."

She said the legislation only waives the Jones Act for vessels with the sole intention of assisting in the cleanup, and would only be applied for the period of time necessary to respond to the spill.

Waiving the Jones Act may only be symbolic, however. According to the Christian Science Monitor: "In response to such calls for more foreign help, the oil spill unified command on Tuesday streamlined the waiver process, adding that 15 foreign-flagged ships are already operating in the Gulf. More are on their way, according to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano."

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