I know that we have been inundated with the horrific news from Parkland, Florida. Sadly, the funeral services for the seventeen who tragically lost their lives will go on this week. As well, many in the media have been focused on the news about Robert Mueller’s indictments of Russian nationals for “meddling” in our recent elections. The admission that there were no Americans involved seems to be lost on some.
But there was something that occurred last week which should also have our attention. President Trump had a bipartisan meeting with Congressional lawmakers on the topic of our steel industry. The major theme coming out of the meeting is that our lawmakers are afraid of upsetting other countries who are offloading their steel into America. We continue to hear the rhetoric of fear regarding a “trade war.” Over the past few months I have had the distinct pleasure and privilege to visit the men and women of two American steel mills, one in Durant, Oklahoma and the other in Seguin, Texas. To watch the impressive process of recycling steel and metal waste products, that would otherwise fill refuse sites and pollute our environment, is exceptional. The U.S. steel industry has the strictest regulatory requirements imposed and use the most state of the art equipment to meet the requirements while remaining competitive from a cost and productivity perspective. Understand that these foreign competitors who are dumping their steel in our country do not have the same high standards.
Consider this: according to the American Iron and Steel Institute, almost 69 percent of all steel is recycled in North America each year compared to other countries that pollute their air and water with no regard to the impact on their people or the environment. Also, that dirty air gets to us and the products that are produced in these countries – that we buy because we think they are cheap – have also been known to be contaminated such as baby formula, toys with lead paint. Now why would we want to support this? Lest I remind y’all also about the Chinese drywall problem that plagued the people of South Florida? I dealt with that issue as a Member of Congress representing those fine folks.
The most important reason why we should be growing our domestic steel production and manufacturing industry is simple – jobs. We hear all the political rhetoric about building our middle class. U.S. steel making jobs are very high-quality jobs; they have above average wages, and every job created supports 6-7 jobs in the community. That is an impeccable collateral effect, and certainly what I saw happening in Durant, Oklahoma.
Where else is that collateral effect felt? Much of the steel being produced ends up in some form of construction, rebar (roads, bridges, buildings, ports, water treatment), beams (bridges, buildings), metal buildings, roofing, siding, pipelines, etc. In other words, this is all about American infrastructure repair, and why should we not produce the full panoply starting with our steel production to the final product. The construction industry lost the most jobs following the global financial crisis and it has lagged in terms of recovery. In addition to steel making jobs, you also create construction and other manufacturing jobs (cutting, bending/forming, welding, fabrication).
But perhaps, what concerns me the most about American steel production is our national security. Consider the fact that America, this year, will borrow some $955B to satiate the insatiable appetite of government spending. That is more than our complete defense discretionary budget. And what happens when our mandatory spending grows to a point where all generated revenues must service that portion of our budget, and we are forced to borrow to provide for our common defense? Even worse, why are we importing steel to rebuild our military capability and capacity. Imagine, Chinese or Turkish steel building the next generation of Naval surface vessels?
Our national security requires economic security. Former Chairman of our Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen stated as much. However, no steel company can survive on making “military products” alone. We cannot afford to make those products unless we have a basket of products that we produce. The capital investment in a steel mill to make only “military products” cannot be justified unless the government or the military would like to pay exorbitant prices or buy these products from our enemies. That is unacceptable. Remember, it was our cutting off oil and steel shipments to Japan that brought their angst and resulted in their surprise attack against our Navy at Pearl Harbor. Today, we see China building up their military maritime capability, while we have horrendously gutted our Naval capability, and we will need our own steel production capacity to rebuild that global force for good.
Yes, we need to focus on rebuilding our steel industry. I hardly believe that we need cower because the products we produce are superior and sought after on the global stage. I truly found it disconcerting to have American Congressional lawmakers who are afraid to make American steel great again. Many of our global competitors have nationalized steel industries. There is no profit motive with all the state-owned steel companies. The U.S. is very cost competitive on a global basis. We have low cost raw material, low cost energy, efficient equipment and a great logistical system to bring the product to market. However, in America we embrace the free market, and that means our steel companies are required to make a profit. The major difference is that the steel industry does not receive subsidies from the government. Therefore, our trade policy demands that there is a level playing field. When a level playing field exists, our steel industry, America, can stand up to anyone in the world.
Now, what congressional lawmaker does not want that?
Allen West is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army. Mr. West is a Senior Fellow at the Media Research Center to support its mission to expose and neutralize liberal media bias.