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McCain seeks to open US domestic routes to foreign ships

February 6, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. John McCain, who seems to revel in the occasional lonely crusade, is now taking on America’s maritime industry and the longstanding law barring foreign-built ships from transporting goods within the United States.

McCain’s opposition to the 1920 Jones Act isn’t new, but his status as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is. He’s made clear in recent weeks that one of his priorities is to strip away the maritime industry’s protections, which he says stifle competition and drive up the cost of food, gasoline and steel.

“As has been my habit over the years, I will not quit on this issue,” McCain said during a recent speech on the Senate floor.

Federal law requires that ships transporting cargo between two U.S. ports be built in the United States, manned by U.S. citizens and primarily owned by U.S. citizens.

For now, McCain is focused on rolling back the American-made requirement in the law. Ships moving goods between two U.S. ports would still require an American crew.

Congress barred foreign-made ships and crews from domestic routes to help ensure the U.S. has the vessels, shipyards and crews necessary to sustain a healthy defense and economy. Many countries have similar protections in place for their shipbuilders and workers.

California Reps. Duncan Hunter, a Republican, and John Garamendi, a Democrat, are among the lawmakers who have signed letters encouraging Senate leaders to maintain the protections. They said weakening the Jones Act would harm an industry that supports more than 400,000 domestic jobs

Hunter said his opposition to McCain’s efforts is based primarily on national security. Great nations, he said, rule the ocean.

“What happens an entire generation from now when something really bad happens and the people who had been selling ships to us no longer want to do it or are unable to? What do you do then?” asked Hunter, chairman of the House subcommittee with oversight over maritime transportation issues.

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