Coronavirus lesson: Time to end U.S. reliance on foreign supply chains

‘American jobs for American workers’ goal of forthcoming bills

By state Rep. Frank Burns

Decades ago, corporate greed led U.S. companies to search for cheap labor in other countries – starting a trend that has relocated entire American manufacturing sectors and left millions of hard-working Americans without good-paying jobs, all while rich CEOs grew richer.

Building trades, labor unions and old-school, America-first political leaders like the late Congressman John Murtha fought against this corporate ransacking of our economy, which devastated entire industries, starting with steel and manufacturing.

Time has proven that Murtha, the building trades and the labor unions were right, because as the United States faces a health care crisis not seen in our lifetimes, we’re paying a steep price by not being able to respond effectively to the coronavirus crisis.

We’re finding out that global supply chains and offshore production in Asia – and particularly China – aren’t so reliable when those countries are in great need, too. We’re facing a huge shortage of life-saving ventilators in our hospitals, can’t get enough masks and other protective gear for our medical workers, and are even finding out that an astonishingly high number of the medicines we rely on come from China.

This production shift may have profited Wall Street CEOs who continue to live like kings, but it’s robbed our country of the ability to swiftly ramp up supply to meet demand in perilous times. That’s not good for any of us, because it places the fate of Americans in the hands of foreign countries.

Should we really rest easy knowing that this outsourcing is so prevalent that China now produces many of our antibiotics? Should we be scrambling to find manufacturers capable of switching to ventilator production, instead of having adequate homegrown capacity to meet our hospitals’ needs? And should we have patriotic old ladies stitching together protective masks at home in order to meet skyrocketing demand?

Our country sure wouldn't allow China to build our military's missiles – so why is it OK for our military to rely on important medication manufactured in China? What level of pandemonium would erupt if China, our chief economic rival, cut off our supply of antibiotics?

In honor of John Murtha and those who warned us this day would come, I’ll be introducing a package of bills to create an incentive to use American-made products for any project that receives taxpayer money. I don’t really care if the Wall Street tycoons and their minions call me a protectionist, because I love this country way more than I do them.

We must join together to reverse this outsourcing trend that has stripped so many of our fellow citizens of jobs with decent wages and benefits – and is now showing just how vulnerable it makes the health and well-being of our entire citizenry.

“American jobs for American workers” won’t just benefit our economy by restoring the good jobs we’ve lost. It may end up saving lives in your family.

State Rep. Frank Burns represents the 72nd Legislative District in Cambria County.