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Senator McCain unleashes new attack on Jones Act

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) on July 13 announced his latest attack on the Jones Act, posting a copy of harmful legislation that, if enacted, would repeal elements of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, eliminate an enormous number of American jobs in shipbuilding and supporting industries, and weaken U.S. military ship construction and repair capabilities.

"Senator McCain's perennial assaults on the Jones Act are as dangerous as they are misguided," said American Maritime Officers National President Paul Doell. "Although this effort is veiled in platitudes on the general principles of free trade, repealing the Jones Act in whole or in part would in practice wipe out an American industry that provides hundreds of thousands of jobs, and would severely damage an industrial base needed by our Armed Forces.

"American Maritime Officers and American Maritime Officers Service will keep a close eye on this destructive bill and any attempt Senator McCain may make to advance it or attach it to one of several key pieces of legislation moving through Congress," Doell said. "As we have in the past, American maritime labor and industry will stand united in opposition to this and any other attack on the Jones Act."

Nationwide, the domestic maritime industry supported by the Jones Act sustains approximately 500,000 jobs and has an annual economic impact of nearly $100 billion, according to a study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Transportation Institute. The industry also accounts for approximately $29 billion in annual wages and $10 billion in tax revenue each year.

As noted by a recent Government Accountability Office study: "Although the Department of Defense does not administer or enforce the Jones Act, the military strategy of the United States relies on the use of commercial U.S.-flag ships and crews and the availability of a shipyard industrial base to support national defense needs."

The Department of Defense has called on Jones Act ships when necessary for the overseas delivery of equipment and supplies to U.S. military personnel. New ocean-going ships built in the U.S. through private investment for specific Jones Act markets are well suited to carry defense cargoes abroad, and 80 percent of the private sector American merchant mariners available for strategic sealift and other military support services began their seagoing careers in Jones Act trades.

In January 2015, Senator McCain filed a legislative amendment that sought to eliminate the Jones Act requirement that vessels transporting cargo in U.S. coastwise trades be built by American shipyards. That attack on the U.S. maritime cabotage law generated a powerful response from U.S. lawmakers and industry and government leaders.

U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft said regarding that amendment: "I think, at the end of the day, it will put our entire U.S. fleet in jeopardy. And then, in a time of crisis, who are we going to charter to carry our logistics? ... Very difficult if we don't have a U.S.-flagged ship."

Writing to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in a letter dated January 20, 2015, 32 members of the House of Representatives stated, in part: "Specifically, this proposal would repeal the domestic build requirements of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 - commonly referred to as the Jones Act - that has long served to ensure that our nation has a robust domestic maritime industry. America's sea services are the most powerful in the world and play a critical role providing a stabilizing presence to keep the seas free and open, which in turn allows global commerce to thrive. One of the reasons our Navy is strong is because of the U.S. shipyard industrial base. This measure, however, would gut the nation's shipbuilding capacity and have far reaching impacts across the nation. Building and maintaining these complex naval vessels, and retaining a capable and experienced U.S. workforce are essential to the safety and security of our nation."

Writing to Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and John Thune (R-SD) in a letter dated January 15, 2015, Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) began: "As the Senate considers legislation on the Keystone pipeline and other energy and security measures, I urge you to oppose efforts to weaken the Jones Act. The Jones Act keeps jobs, ships and a maritime skill base in the United States - and any effort to diminish this longstanding law is sure to negatively impact America's maritime industry and its significant contributions to the national economy.

"Chapter 551 of title 46 United States Code, popularly known as the Jones Act, is the United States domestic cabotage law. It requires that vessels carrying passengers or merchandise between any two points in the United States be U.S. flagged, U.S. crewed, U.S. built, and U.S. owned. These requirements ensure that the United States retains a minimum core of shipbuilders and ship operators, and their skills and capabilities, in the United States. Further, this guarantees that we will not be held hostage to whims and dictates of foreign ship owners and operators, or foreign mariners when ships and mariners are needed to respond to disasters or support national security requirements."

On January 16, 2015, Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) took to the Senate floor to make a statement opposing the attack on the Jones Act. Her statement, in part, read: "Senator McCain's amendment would specifically knock out the Jones Act provision that requires U.S.-flagged ships be built in the United States, jeopardizing good-paying, middle class jobs. To me, that's reason enough to oppose this amendment.

"The fact is these ships don't create quick turnaround jobs - but are hundreds of thousands of well-paying, long-term manufacturing jobs.

"If these ships are not built here in U.S. shipyards by U.S. workers, where will they be built? Where will those jobs go? China? Other Asian counties? Europe?

"The shipbuilding industry is rebounding. Repealing the Jones Act is a step in the wrong direction. Instead of dismantling a policy that supports American jobs, Congress should be focused on doing more to promote and grow American manufacturing."

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