On the Second Amendment, U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise remains principled. But he and other Louisiana Republicans in Congress have needlessly abandoned free-market principles regarding the Merchant Marine Act of 1920.
When asked recently about his views on gun rights, Scalise, who survived an assassination attempt by an anti-Republican gunman earlier this year, expressed continued support for that fundamental freedom. Even after spending months recuperating from the attack, Scalise understands that enforcing existing firearm laws, rather than passing new ones that impede self-defense, strengthens liberty. Even if draconian gun control measures would have spared him suffering, such measures tempt government to behave tyrannically.
Yet when also recently asked about what's commonly known as the Jones Act, which prevents foreign vessels from moving shipments among U.S. ports, Scalise who generally champions market-based policies, explained himself as “a staunch supporter of the Jones Act ... a law that protects America from national security threats.”
Other GOP delegation members have joined him in shunting aside free-market convictions on this issue. Last month, after President Donald Trump suspended the act for 10 days to assist in hurricane disaster relief, U.S. Reps. Ralph Abraham, Garret Graves and Clay Higgins, along with U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, voiced support for the law. Graves echoed Scalise’s rationale; Higgins said it protected American jobs and the merchant marine industry; and Abraham mentioned all of the above. Kennedy essentially said he’d rather drink weed killer than repeal the act.
The only problem is, the national security argument is a red herring. If it's intended to prop up the costly American shipbuilding industry, which is bloated by higher labor prices for materials, in order to keep it strong in case of war, then the act has failed abysmally. Despite the law, hundreds of thousands of shipbuilding, longshoremen, and merchant marine jobs have vanished since the 1990s — as residents around Avondale painfully know. Additionally, it has made microscopic the once-mighty U.S. oceangoing commercial fleet, now accounting for about one percent of all such vessels, despite unprecedented growth in world trade.
Plus, the act helps make what little American shipping that still exists less competitive. Because of the inflated pricing involved, owners of transporters delay replacements, so shipping occurs on older vessels at greater expense. Ultimately, sellers of goods transported over water pass on these increased costs to buyers.
How Congress recently handled disaster relief shows why things need to change. Louisiana’s U…
In short, the act spawns crony capitalism, using politics to transfer wealth from consumers to shipbuilders and unions, with some of those bucks trickling into campaign coffers of politicians who support these beneficiaries. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Scalise since 2013 received more campaign funds from sea transportation interests than any other member of the House of Representatives; Graves ranked fourth. In the Senate, Kennedy collected the third most sea transportation money and came in 17th in transportation union dough.
In reality, curtailing the act’s reach, as proposed by a Senate bill introduced last month, or eliminating it entirely, would boost shipbuilding and help the public. With competition from foreign sources, unions — both the shipbuilding and water transportation industries have about three times the union penetration than for the American private sector as a whole — would be forced to modify their excessive wage demands, lowering shipbuilding and shipping costs. This would make water transportation by American vessels more competitive by stimulating shipbuilding and employment and also reduce prices for consumers.
As the old saw goes, if you call the tune, you pay the fiddler ... or maybe the fiddler stop…
Louisianans in Congress should understand that supporting the Jones Act helps only special interests, weakens American shipping and national security, and sells out the rest of their constituents. Lawmakers would serve the greater good by working to repeal it.