Conn. congressman unveils bills to aid US firms

AP News
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Posted: Dec 30, 2009 4:48 PM

A Connecticut congressman is among a group of federal lawmakers hoping to update the country's "Buy American" laws to help struggling manufacturers.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy said Wednesday there are numerous loopholes in the laws that allow federal agencies to opt out from having to buy goods and services from domestic companies, enabling foreign companies to get the business instead.

"Those jobs are going elsewhere, funded by you and me, the taxpayers of this state and this nation," said Murphy, who represents the 5th Congressional District.

Murphy, appearing at the state Capitol news conference, said he will introduce two bills in January that would update federal domestic sourcing statutes. He said a working group of congressional members, including many from the Midwest and Northeast regions, began meeting two months ago to discuss ways to retool the laws.

Murphy has proposed increasing the percentage of a completed good that must be made in the U.S. to qualify as "Made in America." It stands at 50 percent. Murphy said he would like it increased to 60 percent, acknowledging that it would be a "fairly dramatic change."

He also wants to require federal agencies to take into account the number of jobs created or sustained by awarding a federal contract to an American company, and provide financial help to American suppliers, enabling them to begin making goods that are not considered to be available in the U.S.

Citing 2007 statistics, Murphy said he has learned that 14,000 waivers from the "Buy American" laws were requested because goods were supposedly not available from U.S. manufacturers. Murphy said that figure equates to $5.7 billion in taxpayer money sent overseas.

John Barto, president of Ansonia Copper & Brass in Waterbury, said his company, the sole domestic supplier of copper and nickel tubing for U.S. Navy ships and submarines, needs federal assistance to stay in business.

He said the 60-year-old company, which employs 70 people, is operating "on a day-to-day basis" financially. The federal assistance, proposed to be up to $5 million, would help Barto modernize the plant and make the company more competitive.

But if Ansonia Copper & Brass closes, Barto said the Department of Defense would only have a large German firm, owned by an Italian conglomerate, to supply the tubing.

In Connecticut, where the unemployment rate is 8.2 percent, there are about 170,000 manufacturing jobs, according to John Harrity, director of GrowJobsCT, a coalition of labor, business and community groups working to stop manufacturers from leaving the state.

While that number makes up 11 percent of state's work force, Connecticut has lost 27,000 manufacturing jobs since 2004.