MARAD Chief Defends Jones Act

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Published Oct 6, 2015 8:58 PM by The Maritime Executive

Speaking at the 2015 Jones Act Shipping Forum in New York, U.S. Maritime Administrator Paul “Chip” Jaenichen affirmed the overwhelming support for the Jones Act in Congress, the Maritime Administration and the Obama Administration.

In his address, Jaenichen said that for almost a century, presidents from both parties have supported the Jones Act including, President Barack Obama, President George W. Bush, President Bill Clinton and President Ronald Reagan.

“We have four presidents from both political parties over a three decade span backing and reinforcing their support of the Jones Act. I ask you, what other kind of issues would trigger that level of political census?” said Jaenichen.

In his remarks, Jaenichen said emphatically that the Jones Act is subject to many “tall tales, embellishments and outright falsehoods or misrepresentations,” such as Puerto Rico’s attempt to blame the Jones Act for its financial woes.

“The unvarnished truth is that Puerto Rico has built a mutually beneficial relationship with Jones Act carriers and the Jones Act - providing just one quarter of maritime service to the island (based on both tonnage and the number of annual vessel calls) is in no way, shape or form responsible for Puerto Rico’s economic difficulties… no more than the foreign flag shippers that service the island. It’s just another Jones Act tall tale,” said Jaenichen.

Jaenichen also noted that while these falsehoods “may weaken the popularity of the Jones Act, it will never diminish our federal government’s overall support for the Act.”

Echoing Jaenichen’s strong remarks about the rock solid support for the Jones Act in Congress was Tom Allegretti, chairman of the American Maritime Partnership (AMP). In his remarks, Allegretti stated that the strong support for the Jones Act trade is due to the industry’s longstanding positive impact on national, economic and homeland security, affirmatively noting that any attempt to include an amendment of the Jones Act in pending legislation is a “vote subtractor” that can hurt Congressional progress.  

“Some in Puerto Rico have suggested that a Jones Act exemption be included in the legislative package under the erroneous theory that the Jones Act is bad for Puerto Rico.  But here’s the kicker: If Congress did that - include an anti-Jones Act amendment in the package - the chances of the overall package getting enacted into law would diminish. That’s because the presence of an anti-Jones Act amendment would reduce or subtract the number of Members of Congress who would vote for the overall bill. So Puerto Ricans would be undermining, and maybe even sabotaging, their own assistance package by including an anti-Jones Act amendment in it,” said Allegretti.

This Congressional mathematics was apparent earlier this year when Senator John McCain filed a Senate floor amendment to repeal the Jones Act, which was overwhelmingly disputed by Members in both Chambers of Congress. “Ultimately, several weeks later, facing almost certain defeat, [Sen. McCain] withdrew his amendment and did not offer it. We believe his amendment would have failed overwhelmingly. Even Sen. McCain jokingly admitted that his strategy for repealing the Jones Act was to “pray to the patron saint of lost causes.” In other words, there is no appetite in Congress to change the Jones Act,” said Allegretti.

Last December, Congress enacted the strongest endorsement of the Jones Act in history in a resolutions included in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014.  

“When everything is taken into consideration, the primary purpose of the Jones Act is to ensure a healthy domestic maritime sector for the Department of Defense to utilize in times of need, and it works. End of story,” said Jaenichen.

“Every time the Jones Act is smeared, demonized or becomes a scapegoat for another problem, it threatens our national defense, our economy, our way of life and it threatens our Merchant Marine.”