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"U.S. Maritime- Bring Me Your Preamble to Legislate"

Congressional Interview with Representative John Garamendi

Let’s begin with the Jones Act and Cargo Preference. We are all very concerned about these issues. The sequester has already taken about 10 vessels away from us and could take a lot more in the MSP program and potentially with reform of food aid.

Garamendi: With regard to all of these programs, you start with a question: Should America be a maritime nation or not? We have 95,000 miles of coastline. So my answer is we must be. We have no choice but to be a maritime nation.

We’re dependent upon it for international trade.

Garamendi: All the international trade issues, the whole economy in a large way are based upon the maritime industry. If you are talking about the steel industry, you are talking about maritime. If you are talking about agriculture, you are talking about maritime, inland waterways, and exports. If you are talking abut Wal-Mart, Target, any of the retail stores, you are talking about maritime.  Like it or not, we are a maritime nation. Are we going to be dependent on others or are we going to have our own maritime industry?

We need our own merchant marine and vessels and shipyards capable of building them.

Garamendi: I think for economic security and national security we have to be a nation that owns and operates a significant merchant marine fleet. We cannot depend upon other nations to meet our needs when there is a crisis or to provide the jobs that Americans need. Therefore, our national policies must be directed in such a way as to encourage and enhance the domestic industry.

How can this be done? Shipbuilding – if you’re going to build a Navy ship, it has to be built in America. If we’re going to build a ferry that’s used on the inland waterways, it’s got to be built in America. We must establish policies that encourage American-made vessels and the shipyards that go with them. Loan programs, subsidy programs, maybe tax incentives. There are a lot of different things that can help accomplish that.

What about crewing? We need well-trained American seafarers as well. 

Garamendi: Yes, it all ties in. Now you have a ship, who is going to man it? Is it going to be American-flag or foreign-flag? American-flag ships have to be part of this equation, so what does it take to get an American-flag ship? First of all, rules and regulations and laws – do they hinder or help? We need to look at that. You can probably find some that hinder and some that help. The personnel, are there training programs and upward mobility? All of those things that have to do with training or personnel are vital – the maritime academies, the Naval Academy, those folks who cycle out of the military and have the potential of coming on the merchant side, and so forth.

 Let’s get back to the Jones Act. It’s an essential part of all this.

Garamendi: Yes, it’s all about the Jones Act. If it’s American-made goods that are traveling within the United States or around the coast to go from New Orleans to Baltimore, that should be an American vessel with an American crew. If they are going from San Francisco to Hawaii or Guam, again, American personnel. There’s talk that we’re going to have a military deal with the Philippines and Subic Bay is going to become not a military post but a supply depot. How’s the equipment going to get there? On an American-flag  or MSP or Ready Reserve or merchant vessel? It seems to me that it is an American shipping opportunity, so we need to expand the Jones Act. Right now it is specifically for Guam, Alaska, Hawaii, the intracoastal and coastal trades, and so forth. So we need to look at new opportunities. 

What about energy and the potential export of U.S.-produced LNG?

Garamendi: America is rapidly moving toward energy independence, and we do have a lot of energy exports. When LNG comes along it should be on American-made ships with American crews. So if we are going to export LNG, which I think we can only do in a very limited way because I don't want to drive up the price of energy in the U.S., it should be on American ships. There is some amount that will be shipped domestically, say from Texas to Boston. That’s intercoastal. That must be American. 

So those are examples of what we can do, but it takes a cohesive policy. We are a maritime nation and we are going to do the following things to encourage maritime and then we enforce that policy. Tell the Department of Energy you’ve got the Jones Act and you’ve got other cabotage requirements that are in the law and should be followed. Call the Secretary before the Transportation Committee and say: “Your predecessor did not bother to enforce the laws. Are you going to enforce the laws or not? And if you’re not then tell us now so we can call you back every week and ask why you are not enforcing the laws.” I think that is something we should do on the Transportation Committee. We are not just going to wait for the Department of Energy and other congressional committees to do it.  

 What we really need is a coherent maritime policy.

Garamendi: This is a challenge and wherever I go I tell people we need a maritime policy. We need to pull all these disparate pieces together and write a maritime policy for the U.S. so there is clarity and continuity and uniformity of purpose. I’d like to work with Chairman Hunter to accomplish that. I think we can do it. A lot of the pieces are already there, and at a maritime roundtable in Oakland last month I invited industry participation: Write it for me. The unions, you want to write the labor piece of this. Educators – write the education part. Shipbuilders, you write your version. Each of you has an interest here. You know what the policy should be. Write it. Put it on the table. We’ll hold the hearings and we’ll make a policy out of it. We can eventually figure it out ourselves, but the pride of authorship ought to be with the industry.

Sometimes the industry can’t agree among themselves. 

Garamendi: There are going to be people pushing back and tug of wars in the industry, but draft the preamble to it. Send it over here. Here’s the workforce preparation piece or the maritime academies piece and so forth. Here’s the role of P.L. 480. Put that in there. It’s part of American policy. It has humanitarian purposes and is also part of the maritime structure of the U.S. 

I’d also like to do a hearing on the cash vs. food issue. I think that if we really got into it we’d find that cash is no cheaper and has a lot more potential for fraud. I know they say, “Well, the food you send out there, someone is going to divert it from the market.” And I say, “Yes, but they got the food. On the other hand, you send cash, the same thing is going to happen. Guarantee it. But they’re not going to have the food, they’re going to have the cash. Where’s it going to be used and what is it going to be used for?”

I was talking to Jonathan Kaskin, who developed the “dual use” vessel concept for the Navy. Roll-on, roll-off vessels for commercial use and, if we went to war, they would be used by the Navy. We were talking about developing some legislation. The Navy is willing to fund it. The Navy has the appropriations for 2015, but somebody has to introduce a law that would allow that money to go to Title XI.

Garamendi: It’s a fascinating concept and that door is always open.

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is closed right now because of the government shutdown. But the Air Force Academy is open and so are the Naval Academy and West Point. Is this the Administration’s attitude toward the maritime industry – while all the others are essential, Kings Point isn’t?

Garamendi: There are 340 million Americans that are either upset now or going to be in the near future. We’ve got to end this thing. We’re going through these things one vote at a time, and we’ll never get government going this way. All of this is happening because a bunch of Republicans don’t like the Affordable Care Act. Americans like the Affordable Care Act. They don’t like Obamacare. That’s what it’s all about.

(Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before the end of the government shutdown.)

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.