In Wednesday's debate, President Obama told the nation that he wants to stop sending jobs overseas. Funny: His administration has repeatedly circumvented a long-standing law that guarantees the employment of American maritime workers, in order to give the job to foreigners.
Last year, the Obama administration waived the Jones Act dozens of times -- making the rare practice almost commonplace. In doing so, he allowed foreign vessels and foreign crews to transport oil between our ports, leaving US vessels and American seafarers standing idly on the sidelines.
Not many people outside the maritime industry have heard of this federal law, but the importance of the Jones Act to the country's economic and national security can't be understated. Enacted over 90 years ago, it has been upheld by every administration -- Republican and Democrat -- ever since, until recently.
The Jones Act requires that all goods transported on the water between US ports must be carried by US-flag vessels, built in America and owned and crewed by US citizens. The law is critical to helping ensure a robust domestic maritime industry -- one that that operates quietly, efficiently and safely, all the while moving billions of dollars worth of commerce on our inland waterways and along our vast coastlines.
In so doing, the industry provides thousands of family-wage jobs that bolster communities all across the country.
This is especially important today, when our fragile national economy is still struggling to recover. It also matters because the administration reportedly is looking at again tapping into the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve to try to slow the latest rise in gasoline prices.
When the president tried this approach last summer, releasing millions of barrels from the reserve, he waived the Jones Act, allowing foreign vessels to transport the oil throughout the country, rather than letting domestic carriers and their American workforce do the work, as the law requires.
Since I represent Staten Island and the Brooklyn waterfront, one of the nation's major concentrations of maritime employment, I'm very concerned that last summer's errors may be repeated.
Well-known maritime companies in my district -- like Bouchard Transportation, McAllister Towing, Moran Towing, Kirby Corp., Reinauer Transportation and The Vane Brothers Co., some of which have been in operation for over 150 years -- are willing and able to step up to the job.
This time around, the administration ought to enforce sure US law and provide the opportunity for US-based companies and their mariners to get the work and jobs, rather than the foreign companies it "waivered in" last year. If the president repeats his mistake, the US maritime industry, its workers and our economy will suffer the most.
Our nation's maritime industry remains fully ready and able to assist in the event of a future Strategic Petroleum Reserve drawdown. It's as simple as this -- and it is the law -- no waivers should be granted until all available US-flag vessels are being used.
In the end, it's up to the president to decide: Will he deny work to the domestic maritime industry by allowing foreign-flag vessels and crews to carry this oil, or will he do the right thing and support a domestic industry that supports our great nation?
The right answer is to enforce of the Jones Act and more importantly, support the thousands of mariners and their families across the country who are ready to go to work and sail the American vessels when the reserve is opened.