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With Trump on their side, Republicans hopeful for “Buy American” iron and steel bill

On Wednesday, the Senate voted 22-8 for a proposal that would expand a Buy American provision already in effect for the Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Water Development Board to all state agencies.

Construction in downtown Austin's Warehouse District on Tuesday, May 2, 2017.

With his calls to “Buy American, Hire American,” President Trump cast his election victory as a chance to protect American-made goods. Now, two Republican lawmakers suggest that the timing is right to push similar measures in Texas.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted 22-8 for a proposal that would expand a Buy American provision already in effect for the Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Water Development Board to all state agencies.

Senate Bill 1289 by state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, would require large state projects — such as buildings, roads and bridges — to purchase iron and steel from an American supplier if the cost doesn’t exceed 20 percent more than the price of cheaper, foreign imports. The bill also says that if American suppliers aren't prepared to supply a project, or there is a compelling state interest, any country's iron and steel can be used.

Senators tacked on an amendment by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, that would remove “Buy America” language from the Texas Water Code, meaning water infrastructure projects wouldn’t be required to use American-made iron and steel.

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration. The companion legislation, House Bill 2780 by state Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, is scheduled for debate on the House floor Friday.

“Our intentions are to make sure foreign governments like China and Turkey can’t create a foreign steel market that would gut the American market,” Creighton said Tuesday. “We stand firm for Texas jobs and manufacturers and against communist China flooding the market to hurt those stakeholders.”

In a news release sent to The Texas Tribune ahead of Wednesday’s floor debate, Friends of Texas Iron and Steel said Paddie’s bill would promote American-made goods, something Trump said he supported during his run for the White House. The group shared a poll from Baselice & Associates that said 84 percent of Texans are willing to pay slightly more to buy domestic steel and iron.

“Many states around the nation are expanding their Buy America provisions because for years Washington D.C. has failed to enforce our trade laws and deferred to nations like China,” the statement says. “The federal government has put American manufacturing at risk.”

Their words were echoed by Paddie, who told the Tribune prior to Wednesday’s floor debate that Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order could help get momentum behind his bill. Last session, a similar measure was filed by state Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, but died in a House committee.

“Some of the objectives the president has now and is pushing forward, I believe this bill fits very much right into that same narrative,” Paddie said.

Supporters of the measure said the bills will encourage reinvestment in the U.S. and revive Texas manufacturing, but opponents argue that the bill's 20 percent provision could drive up costs for entire projects.

During Wednesday’s floor debate, some lawmakers also expressed concerns that the bill could negatively impact Texas businesses if companies buy steel from other states.

If we’re going to do this, is it better to say ‘buy Texan’ instead of ‘buy American’? If we’re buying from North Carolina, that’s helping North Carolina businesses, but it’s not helping Texas,” state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, said.

Creighton said he didn’t buy the argument that his measure would hurt Texas manufacturing since his bill expands a federal measure that’s already in place.

It’s important for us as a body to take this step first for a ‘Buy America’ provision,” Creighton said. “We’re achieving our goals to make sure Texas jobs are supported, because those are American jobs.”

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