'Buy American' Provision Draws Fire

A powerhouse economic roundtable faced off today on "This Week with George Stephanopolous" over the controversial "Buy American" provision of the economic stimulus package now before the Senate.

FedEx CEO Fred Smith argued the plan, which in part would require companies to buy iron and steel manufactured the U.S., would ultimately hurt global trade.

"The reason it's not the right thing to do is that the growth of global trade has been enormously beneficial to the United States," Smith said.

"The problem with trade is that the benefits are diffused and the pain is localized. But the benefits of having a global economy have created an export sector in this country that provides our highest-paying jobs.

"If the Congress passes this buy-American provision, I can assure you -- and we operate in 220-some-odd countries around the world and are a huge part of the import-export infrastructure of the United States -- we will get retaliation, and it will be American jobs at risk," Smith told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, agreed with Smith but argued that a better social safety net is needed to help people who are underemployed or out of work.

"The fact is that the average American feels that, even when there was growth, he and she wasn't getting a piece of it," said Frank. "And I appreciate you saying, Fred, that we need to take care of the people dislocated, but you have to broaden it.

"I will tell you, I believe, until you get a better social safety net, actions that you're not going to like are going to continue ... Until you relieve the localized pain better, the average American will block things like trade, like outsourcing that you think we ought to do."

The Obama administration appears to be of two minds when it comes to "Buy American." Vice-President Joe Biden said this week that he thinks it is "legitimate to have some portions of Buy American" in the stimulus.

However, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said "the administration is reviewing the provision. It understands all of the concerns that have been heard not only in this room but in newspapers produced both up North and down South."

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a member of the Joint Economic Committee, explained to the panel that "we all want to buy American... But then we have the highest corporate tax rate in the world. We've got a regulatory system that makes us less competitive.

"So we actually put these people out of work, ship jobs overseas with bad policy, and then we want to put our hand up and stop our imports from coming in. This is a government-managed economy which doesn't work. It's inefficient."

Sparks flew between Frank and DeMint on the broader issue of tax cuts versus spending in the stimulus plan. While Frank argued that spending in the $819 billion House bill passed Wednesday is indeed stimulative, DeMint claimed taxpayers would be better off with more tax cuts.

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